Rookie's star shining bright in Saskatchewan
Hockey: Josh Betinol flourishing as freshman Jr. A forward
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 06, 2013 06:00 am
Spurning an opportunity to play for the top-ranked Junior A program in the country turned out to be one of the best decisions an Okotoks prospect has ever made.
Joining the Brooks Bandits’ crusade to the Doyle Cup versus the Penticton Vees last spring gave burgeoning hockey star Josh Betinol an opportunity to be successfully courted by the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s (SJHL) Battlefords North Stars.
“It was time for Brooks’ spring camp and they actually cancelled it because of their long playoff run and that gave me an opportunity to come to Battlefords and see what it was all about,” Betinol said. “I really liked it here and decided to go this way.”
North Stars head coach Kevin Hasselberg persuaded the Okotoks product to gaze his hockey eyes to the prairies and Betinol hasn’t looked back since.
“A large part of it was the coaching. I really like Kevin,” Betinol said. “He’s really good with the players and the way he runs his program is really professional.”
Leaving an opportunity with the Bandits in the rear-view mirror was no easy decision for Betinol who weighed personal development over the success of the Bandits program in choosing to play out of province. The Bandits look to be the pick of the litter in Alberta again, posting a dominant record of 42-2-2 in 2012-13, putting them atop the national Junior A rankings for most of the season.
“It was obviously a very tough decision knowing Brooks is probably a championship team this year,” Betinol said. “But I had to look out for personal gains and felt like I had more opportunity as a player to come here and develop.”
Turns out, the 18-year-old forward made a wise call.
Betinol has taken the SJHL by storm. The North Star sits second in rookie scoring with 13 goals and 30 points in 43 games, exceeding even his own expectations.
“I’m really happy with it. I wasn’t really sure what to expect the league was like,” said Betinol, Battlefords’ second line centre. “I came out to a slow start and the coaching staff told me they believed in me and the puck started to go in the net.”
Hasselberg said the rookie forward has been a contributor from the first puck-drop this season, and his efforts have not gone unnoticed. Betinol earned one of 60 invites to the Canada West training camp in late October for the World Jr. A Challenge.
“He’s certainly had moments where he hasn’t been able to put the puck in the net as much as he would have wished and that’s something that we’ve been working on,” Hasselberg said. “If he capitalized on all of his scoring chances and his linemates on their’s then he’s probably averaging 1.5 points a game.”
The Okotokian, who had a cup of coffee as an affiliate with the Bandits last season while an alternate captain with the Midget AAA UFA Bisons, said Alberta and Saskatchewan’s Jr. A leagues are not as divergent as some people think.
“Compared to the Alberta league Saskatchewan is definitely a lot more physical,” Betinol said. “They say it’s a league below Alberta, the thing is there are a lot of Western Hockey League guys out here too. It keeps the tempo quick and it’s a good league.”
The five-foot-eight, 150 pound pivot caught his current coach’s eye as someone who consistently punches above his weight class while a member of the Keystone Midget 15 Raiders, when Hasselberg was the bench boss for the Olds Grizzlys.
“I really appreciated how he played the game and his determination regardless of the situation,” Hasselberg said. “He really exemplifies that it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. And he plays a real big game and with that brings leadership.”
Betinol, who’s taking online calculus courses with the University of Athabasca to supplement his education on the ice, has shown maturity beyond his years in Saskatchewan.
Hasselberg said Betinol’s statistical output is directly proportional to having the right mental make-up as a freshman forward earning his stripes.
“For Josh it’s his first opportunity a long way from home and that was never a factor in his family’s decision where Josh played,” Hasselberg said. “It’s all about his development as an individual both on and off the ice and those were values we thought were important to the growth of our program. He had the right attitude and with that success came easy for him.
“Everything Josh has received up to this point he’s earned the good-old-fashioned way. He’s a product of his own determination.”
The North Stars are finding their own success in the second half of the season after struggling out of the gate.
Battlefords (23-18-2) sits fourth in a veritable logjam in the hotly contested North Division.
“It took a while for us to get going, but we’re starting to click on our special teams and guys are starting to buy into the system,” Betinol said. “Come playoff time we’re going to be pretty good.”
The North Stars, seeking their first league title since 1999-2000, will likely have to get by the defending champion Humboldt Broncos and Yorkton Terriers, ranked eighth nationally, in order to sip from the Hambridge Cup.
To keep track of Betinol and the North Stars’ run to the post-season go to www.northstars.ca.