Former Bantam Oiler drafted by his idol
Hockey: High River’s Conner Bleackley first-round pick of Colorado Avalanche
By: Bruce Campbell
| Posted: Monday, Jun 30, 2014 05:28 pm
A former Okotoks Bantam AAA Oiler had his picture taken with hall-of-famer Joe Sakic for the second-time in his life at the NHL draft last week.
Conner Bleackley’s name was called in the first round of the draft by Sakic, the vice-president of hockey operations of the Colorado Avalanche. A picture of Sakic just happens to be hanging at the Bleackleys’ High River home.
“Joe Sakic was my idol when I was growing up and to hear him call my name I couldn’t have dreamed up a better day,” said Bleackley in an interview from Denver on Sunday. “We have a cabin near Swift Current and he (Sakic) was at a diner when I was about eight years old. My dad got a call from a friend who knew I was a huge fan telling him he was there.
“I got an autograph and a picture with him.”
The 18-year-old High Riverite was chosen 23rd overall by the Avs in the draft at Philadelphia on Friday. He admitted it was nerve-wracking waiting for his name to be called.
“I was in that 20th to 30th pick range and I knew what teams kind of liked me,” he said. “The first 15 picks I knew I wasn’t going to get picked, but at 20 things started to go real slow… I didn’t want to be there the next day for the second round.”
Bleackley said Colorado had shown extensive interest in him at the combine in Toronto at the end of May. He was interviewed by 29 of 30 NHL teams at the combine.
“They (Colorado) had a need for a bigger guy, a bigger right-handed centreman and it just worked out perfectly for me,” said the six-foot, 195-pound Bleackley. “They liked my game on the ice, but the character and things went into it as well.”
The Avalanche selected a young leader who was named the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels captain last year as a 17-year-old by coach Brent Sutter.
Bleackley finished with 29 goals and 39 assists with the Rebels in 2013-14.
“Brent taught me the right way and he has prepared me for pro — anytime you can play for a guy like that it is real beneficial,” Bleackley said.
Bleackley is a Sutter-like forward. He plays the full 200-feet and isn’t afraid to throw his body around.
His leadership was apparent to his former Okotoks Bantam AAA Oilers coach Mike Bara. He selected Bleackley as captain for the Oilers.
“I am so proud of him,” Bara said. “Conner is such an amazing individual — a better human being off the ice than he is a hockey player. He is a terrific kid and I was glad to help him come along as a leader.”
Bleackley hopes to wear the Avs’ red-white-and-blue for years to come, however, the immediate future is still up in the air.
“I want to go to Colorado camp and make it as hard as possible for them to send me back to Junior,” Bleackley said. “But it’s a great situation in Red Deer. We have a young team and a bright future.”
Although Bleackley may be one of the best young prospects in the country, he’d be battling for top spot on his High River block.
Former Okotoks Oiler Corban Knight, who had a stint with the Flames last season, lives on the same street as the future Av.
“It was really cool when Corban got drafted (by the Florida Panthers in 2009). I was pretty young back then and we used to play on the pond and in our backyard.”
Bleackley was joined by his mom and dad, Dawn and Trent, and his brothers Tory and Kade in the City of Brotherly Love for the draft.
Dawn’s smile was 40 times wider than the crack on the Liberty Bell when Conner was selected.
“It was unbelievable happiness to see his dream come true like that — it’s one of the highlights of our lives,” Dawn said from just outside of Philly. “I was quite nervous. At around the 20th pick I could hear my heart beating.
“To have him go to his favourite team growing up is wonderful.”
Dawn has to do some housekeeping as soon as she gets home.
“We have a pretty great picture that Colorado wants to get hold of right now,” she said with a chuckle.
Conner did have one regret about Friday’s draft. He missed his graduation from Highwood High School in High River on Friday, but he was busy in Philadelphia.
“It was too bad I couldn’t do both, but it was a pretty good Friday for me,” Bleackley said with a chuckle.