Motivated to play a higher level of hockey led Whitehorse natives Wyatt Gale, Riley Pettitt and Jarrett Malchow to pack their bags for Summerland.
They’ve known each other since they were kids, have played rep together and were on the same line in bantam. Being nearly 2,340 kilometres from home hasn’t been too hard because as Pettitt said, they have gotten used to it being away since they were 15. Malchow didn’t leave home until his second year of midget as he didn’t think he was going anywhere with hockey. That was until Gale convinced him to join him with the North East B.C. Trackers in Dawson Creek two years ago.
“We have just kind of followed each other around, trying to get on the same teams,” said Gale.
Pettitt led the way for the three to play for the Steam as he received a letter to attend camp. Three years ago Pettitt and his family were in Kelowna, and while visiting had interest in checking out junior camps to see what it was like. Steam coach John DePourcq said they liked what they saw after coming. Pettitt performed well in the spring camp and earned an invite to the main camp.
“They are great kids from great families and have a great work ethic,” said DePourcq.
As rookies last season, the 19-year-olds combined for 27 goals and 58 points. Pettitt and Gale each contributed 11 goals to the Steam offence. Malchow said it’s been different and fun playing in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. Playing in Whitehorse didn’t provide much competition but the 20-team circuit with players the same age and skill has been better.
“It was kind of the same up there. Playing down here with two of my best buddies I’ve grown up playing with, it’s kind of like living the dream I guess,” said Malchow.
The adjustment to the KIJHL was dealing with feeling intimidated, not having a cage on his face and facing bigger, older players. Malchow, six-foot-one, 160 pounds, got used to the league midway through last season, then it became “a lot of fun.”
Malchow, fifth in Steam scoring with seven goals and 21 points in 25 games, loves scrums.
“It’s fun to chirp back and forth,” said Malchow, who hasn’t played since Dec. 1 due to an injury. “It’s a really competitive league and fun to play in.”
While their ice time is relatively the same as last year as DePourcq likes to roll four lines, their production isn’t. It’s been more fun for Malchow and his confidence has grown.
“It just seems that it’s easier, playing a year in the league,” said Malchow, who likes to go in the corners and feed teammates with passes. “Having guys like this to work with, it’s easy.”
Last year the group played primarily together. This season DePourcq split them up to spread the talent among the lineup. DePourcq described Pettitt as a relentless, hard working player while Malchow and Gale share those qualities.
Pettitt considers himself the playmaker, while Gale joked he likes to let the others do the work so he can score. Gale, third in team scoring with nine goals and 27 points in 37 games, said the difference for him this season is having more confidence. There is no more being intimidated or adjusting.
Pettitt, who played major midget for the Cariboo Cougars prior to joining the Steam, said he is more comfortable in what he can do. He has also loved coming to the rink. He ranks third in team scoring with 15 goals and 33 points in 35 games.
While the three give everything for the Steam, DePourcq is doing what he can to help them earn National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 3 scholarships.