Not many Western Hockey League players get a chance to play for their home team, but for a while, 18-year-old forward Jeff de Wit lived that dream.
Now though, he’s had to trade home-cooked meals and time with friends for a new city and new team.
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Raised in Red Deer, he was the 14th overall pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft. He played on his home team, the Red Deer Rebels, for three seasons, and de Wit says he recognizes how lucky he was to play at home.
“I remember my first year pretty vividly, like it was super special stepping on the ice in front of friends and family pretty much every night, because not too many people get to do that,” de Wit said.
“You can argue all you want that the billet life is so fun and you get to go away from home but living at home is probably the ultimate dream.”
This January though, de Wit He was traded to the Regina Pats on Jan 10, 2017. The Pats are ranked number one in the Canadian Hockey League.
“It was mixed emotions, but I was really, really excited just because of the organization I got traded to. I was also sad. I made a lot of lifetime friendships in Red Deer,” said de Wit of his first thoughts upon being traded.
The Pats were impressed by de Wit’s potential, and they’re counting on him for next season.
“A lot of times players start coming into their own once they’re 18 years old, so Jeff fit a perfect age spot for us,” said Brad Herauf, assistant coach of the Pats. “Hosting the Memorial Cup next year, we expect Jeff to be a power forward that’s going to hopefully play in the top six. … He’s asking all the right questions, he’s put in the extra work to be a better hockey player.”
de Wit hasn’t been drafted to the NHL, which is the goal of most players, but he did attend the Detroit Red Wings training camp.
Even in the short time he’s been here, de Wit seems to be fitting in with the team.
“His teammates really like him. It seems like he’s really blended in,” Herauf said.
Although de Wit agrees that he’s adjusting well to the Queen City, he admits there are a few things he misses about living at home.
“I miss hanging out with my mom and dad upstairs, if it was after a game or after a practice, just being able to relax, and have home-cooked meals that you’re used to for 17 years of your life,” said de Wit.
“Even though I don’t tell her, I miss Riley, my sister,” he said. “Watching her play volleyball … I don’t get to do those things now that I’m in Regina. You think about them and you kind of take it for granted when you’re living in Red Deer. I do miss those things the most.”
Coming into a storied franchise in a hockey town known for its diehard devotion to its sports teams isn’t an easy thing for anyone to do. But de Wit says that focus is key.
“You just can’t worry about the outside pressure, what people are expecting [in] the community or… coaches or agents,” he said. “You know, you have to just go out there and play hockey.”
A lot of times, that outside pressure can come from fans. This being a winning season for the Pats, people pour into the stadium in droves to watch their beloved home team play. For de Wit, it’s energizing.
“They’re amazing,” he said of the fans. “I think I’ve had seven home games and we’ve had seven sellouts since I’ve been here, so it’s been pretty unreal. The atmosphere in a smaller arena is pretty unbelievable.”
Suddenly, de Wit says something to a teammate in the background. The team is travelling to Calgary after a busy night of fundraising and practice.
He’s on the road again. It’s a typical Tuesday.