After not knowing when he would make his debut in a Prince Albert Raiders uniform due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rookie forward Niall Crocker has just been trying to take everything in while competing in the East Division hub at the Brandt Centre in Regina.
“I think all of us are very lucky to even play this season,” Crocker said. “It’s a privilege to be here and I’m trying to take in as much as I can.
“I’ve been learning every day here, whether it be during games or during practices. My teammates have been great and my coaches have really helped me out to get a feel for the game at this level.”
Heading into Saturday’s matchup with the Brandon Wheat Kings, the 16-year-old from Delta, B.C. has recorded three assists in 20 games.
He got into his first fight on Thursday against Saskatoon Blades blueliner Pavel Bocharov and was inches away from his first WHL goal in the third period, but Marek Schneider knocked away his attempt on goal at the last moment.
“It’s definitely a lot faster out there compared to midget, but the older guys on our team have been so supportive during practice and have been giving me tips on things I can improve on and do better,” Crocker said. “You have to create time for yourself out there and they’ve given me tips on how I can make space and how I can protect the puck better.”
Crocker is one of nine rookies on the Raiders roster this year, with the others being fellow forwards Logan Linklater and Dallyn Peekeekoot, defencemen Adam McNutt, Tayem Gislason, Graydon Gotaas, Terrell Goldsmith and Tre Fouquette, and third string netminder Max Hildebrand.
“We’re a young group but we’re getting better every day and we’re all learning together, which has definitely made things fun,” Crocker said.
“It sucks that we lost our captain (Kaiden Guhle) in the first couple of games (to an injury) but our young guys on defence have played well. We’ve had other guys like Dallyn come in and be really good, plus our goaltending (with Max Paddock and Carter Serhyenko) has been outstanding in my opinion.”
Before Crocker joined the Raiders, he spent the last three seasons with the Delta Hockey Academy and suited up for their Under-15, Under-16 and Under-18 programs.
“Delta was a great place to get started with my career,” Crocker said. “They’ve had a lot of great players come out of there like Dylan Cozens and Brendan Gallagher and they definitely know what they are doing in terms of what you need to be prepared for on the ice and in the gym to get ready for playing in the Western Hockey League.”
The 22nd overall pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft also had the chance to represent his province at the WHL Cup tournament in October 2019 and also took part in Hockey Canada’s Under-17 Virtual Camp last summer.
“I had a great time during the WHL Cup as that was my first experience in a tournament setting like that and to play against some of the guys I’ll be facing in the Western Hockey League,” said Crocker, who scored a pair of goals for Team B.C. on their way to a third place finish.
“The Under-17 camp was an awesome opportunity and I’m extremely fortunate that I was able to be a part of that camp. It was my first introduction to Hockey Canada, their principals and what they stand for, and I learned a lot of things during that camp that will stick with me forever.”