No one may have been happier than 16-year-old Scott Hansen when the formation of Bellingham's inaugural junior league hockey club, the Bellingham Blazers, was announced.
Hansen, a junior at Squalicum High School, learned to skate when he was 4 years old from local former NHL defenseman Garth Butcher. Ever since, he has been playing Whatcom County hockey, until he was left without a local team last season.
"I had to move because there were not enough skaters," Hansen said. "Last year, I played up in Kelowna, B.C., for Pursuit of Excellence - a hockey academy up there. ... I've been playing here a long time but haven't had too much support in the community. Soccer is big, and you got the Bellingham Bells over there. It's just great to see that the community is coming together for a hockey team."
When Hansen heard of the Blazers from coach Mark Collins, who has coached Hansen for four or five years in the Whatcom hockey program, he was overjoyed.
"Yes, yes, that's for me," said Hansen of his reaction to learning about the new team.
Bellingham, which plays in the Northern Pacific Hockey League and is a Tier III junior league hockey team, has started its season 1-4, but Hansen and the rest of the Blazers reveal themselves to the community in their home opener at 7:35 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Bellingham Sportsplex.
"We got a good group of kids," Collins said. "I like their attitude, and I like how they're coming together as a team. I would like to have a few more wins, but I still like the direction we're going."
The team is composed of players ages 15-19 from California, Colorado, British Columbia and Whatcom County, and Hansen isn't the only player who's given a junior league hockey opportunity with the creation of the Blazers.
This time last year Colorado native Kyler Moore was working on his game and teaching hockey. Moore received a call from Collins, who was recruiting him to come to mini camp, three months ago in mid July,
"Larry MacDonald, the GM at the Lakeway Inn (in Bellingham), has two kids (from Colorado) on the team," Moore explained. "They called me, and got me in touch with coach Collins. He told me this is where it's at, and I agreed and moved up here."
Just like that Moore, 18, left his hometown of Erie, Colo. He changed schools and moved towns for his senior year of high school to follow his hockey dream. He's now a senior at Squalicum.
"Something a lot of hockey player say is that it is going to be your first love," Moore said. "It will always be with you. Sometimes you have to follow where the puck takes you."
Collins said he likes to teach a fast-paced style of play. Once the team starts clicking, he said fans should expect to see that brand of hockey.
They should also get used to seeing Hansen laying his body on the line on the defensive end and Moore outmuscling defenders in his forward role. Most of all, Hansen and Moore bring a blue collar, hard-working attitude to the ice.
It's the main reason Collins selected the pair captains with forward Mason Wade.
"We just saw that leadership in Kyler where we thought this could be good," Collins said. "I don't want a guy who's rah-rah and over the top, because halfway through the season, I think players will tune that out. I just want a kid who is going to work his butt off all the time. That's the big thing with Mason, Kyler and Scotty - all three are real hard workers out there, and that makes a difference."
The Blazers want to be successful as a team and make a run in the playoffs but, being a junior league hockey player, part of the deal is moving to a higher tier of play.
As much as Collins wants team success, he wants to see his players improve and move on.
Hansen and Moore are two players who've shown Collins they can enjoy success at the next level.
"Both guys have good size and both are good puck-moving players," Collins said. "If I have a player who I know I can count on to go in and battle, those are the players I look to move on. If a coach asks me about Scotty, I am going to tell them he is a player I want to put on the ice at the end of the game when the game is on the line."
Hansen has the wounds to prove his dedication and commitment to his club.
"Blocking shots, I get like eight bruises every day, so, you know, that's just what comes with the game," Hansen said. "That's sacrifice, and I think a lot of the position I play is sacrificing as well as rushing the puck and making plays."
Hansen hopes to play for a British Columbia Hockey League team or a North American Hockey League team next year. He hopes to help make the Bellingham Blazers a relevant team in the NORPAC and hopes to improve as a player.
Maybe more than anything, though, he hopes the Blazers can bring additional hockey exposure to Whatcom County youth.
"When I was 4 and went to the rink with my dad and saw my first hockey game there, I said, 'Dad, I want to do this,'" he said. "What I'm hoping is that parents will bring their kids to games and kids will take the initiative from there. We have a great 'Learn to Play' program here. I think just having kids come to games will bring hockey to younger kids and get them playing more."
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
FIRST HOME MATCH
Bellingham vs. West Sound
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20
Where: Bellingham Sportsplex
Tickets: Adult admission is $6. Youth ages 5-18, students with college ID and seniors 65+ cost $4. Kids under 4 are free. Tickets can be purchased on game day at the Sportsplex office or by calling the Sportsplex in advance. Season ticket information is available at http://bellinghamblazers.pointstreaksites.com.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.