The Drumheller Dragons resurgence has a Turner Valley duo playing a leading role.
Sophomore goaltender Hunter Virostek and freshman forward Tyson Scott have proven to be key cogs in the Dragons’ march up the Alberta Junior Hockey League standings following a transitional off-season for the club.
“The biggest difference is it’s a year later and everyone is getting bigger, stronger and faster,” Virostek said. “Since we have mostly the same team everybody was able to gel way quicker, we already had a past. Those are the two biggest things.”
You can’t put a price on experience.
Virostek stepped into the crease as a sophomore armed with the knowledge of what to expect in the provincial loop.
Drumheller boasts 15 returning skaters in the lineup under first-year head coach Kevin Hasselberg.
“Last year we had a lot of rookies,” said Virostek, himself included. “After you got that first year out of the way it’s a little more calm, cool and collective with everybody.”
The 19-year-old spent the summer working on being patient on his feet, on not over-reading the play and instead emphasized reacting to the play rather than guessing the next move.
“I worked out a this summer and got bigger, stronger and faster,” Virostek said. “That has made it a lot easier on myself.”
Though new to the team, Hasselberg watched his starting goalkeeper play at times last season and was struck by his competitiveness and passion for the position.
“He was very confident for a young goalie, especially in his first year,” Hasselberg said. “His athleticism has been phenomenal, his compete level on all shots – he just doesn’t quit, that’s what separates him.
“He’s just going to get better with time and certainly someone you can anticipate moving on to the college level at some point in his career here.”
That has proven to be the case.
All of the shot-stopper’s numbers have increased giving him a solid .911 save percentage and 10 wins in 16 starts in 2017-18.
“He’s a year older, a year more mature and had a summer to prepare after jumping into something,” the coach added. “It’s unusual for a first-year junior goaltender to have the starting role right out of the gate and he had that. It’s just natural progression for him.”
Makeup as much as physical gifts plays a vital role on the last line of defence.
Virostek, a former CFR Chemicals Bison, is a cool customer in the crease.
“He doesn’t get rattled very easily,” the coach added. “In practice when we’re taking shots or drills and I happen to come down and take a shot on him I love his reaction, he has fun. When someone is having fun it keeps them calm and he’s able to shake off things quickly.
“If he gets scored on you can count on him being there for the next save. If one slips by him he will make a save he has no business making.”
A calm, cool and collected game could also be used to describe Scott, a teammate of Virostek’s as recently as 2015-16 with the CFR Chemicals Bisons.
The 6-foot-2, 195 pound forward has stormed out of the gate with 18 points in his first 20 games with the Dragons.
“It’s the same thing, maybe it’s something in Turner Valley in the water, but his composure is phenomenal, ” Hasselberg said. “He’s anther player that doesn’t get rattled easily with the puck, he’s a big body, he protects it well.
“His hockey IQ and decision making on the ice is really what’s been a factor in his offensive success up to this stage. He’s got tools that are hard to teach and in the environment we’re putting him in, because he’s earned it, he’s having success with the numbers.”
Drumheller’s numbers through the first third of the season would dictate the Dragons are among the top contenders in the South along with the top-ranked Okotoks Oilers and defending league champion Brooks Bandits.
The Dragons are the only South team to have a victory over the Oilers thus far.
“It’s a room that really like each other. They have a lot of fun away from the rink,” the coach said. “They have a lot of fun at the rink and there is a lot of mutual respect amongst the group.
“It hasn’t come without a few bumps along the way and we’re going to have more as we journey through the season, but with the leadership we have and the character we have this team is going to get better and we’re going to continue to have success.”