Sports

Valley trio thriving from hockey academy experience

Pacific Coast Hockey Academy Sea Devils sport three Cowichan Valley players in their lineup, from left: Connor Bissett, Darian Harris and Dominik Faustino. - Don Bodger
Pacific Coast Hockey Academy Sea Devils sport three Cowichan Valley players in their lineup, from left: Connor Bissett, Darian Harris and Dominik Faustino.
— image credit: Don Bodger

Three valley hockey players jumped at the chance to develop their skills as elite 15-year-olds in the inaugural season of Pacific Coast Hockey Academy’s Minor Midget U16 team, based in Victoria.

Dominik Faustino, Darian Harris and Connor Bissett are getting tons of ice time and receiving top-notch educational direction to reach their goals.

Faustino, who turns 16 Wednesday, is a relative late-bloomer in hockey these days. “Before 11, I hadn’t been on the ice more than six times,’’ he said.

But the winger from Cobble Hill developed quickly through the ranks, starting out in Kerry Park Peewee C and on to Peewee B and Bantam A before PCHA’s director of hockey Kelly Shields, a former assistant coach with the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the B.C. Hockey League, came calling and invited him to last spring’s high performance prep camp.

Faustino’s size and strength has made him a valuable addition to the team.

“Dom is a strong kid with a heavy shot and likes to play a physical game,’’ noted Shields. “He has provided us with some pretty big goals at key times throughout the season.’’

Harris hails from Ladysmith and has played extensively in the Cowichan Valley rep system to this point.

“I started skating since I was three years old at a Canskate,’’ Harris said. “I started playing hockey in initiation at the age of five.’’

The right winger flip-flopped between A and B teams depending whether he was a first- or second-year player in each division before joining PCHA.

“Darian is a small skilled player and has proven to be a key piece of our offense,’’ noted Shields. “He has consistently been one of our top scorers all season, and is a kid you want with the puck on his stick when you need a goal.’’

Bissett, from Duncan, is a defenceman who also got into the game early. “I started playing when I was four, initiation,’’ he said.

After that, Bissett had two seasons of Atom A and then one year of A and B at each of the Peewee and Bantam levels.

“Connor is a heart-and-soul player for us and you always know what you are going to get from him every time he steps on the ice,’’ pointed out Shields. “He always battles and competes hard and plays much bigger than his size.’’

The boys are loving the PCHA experience. Faustino commutes to Victoria every day and is schooled through the Regent Christian Online Academy while Harris and Bissett are billeting in Victoria and attending Grade 10 at Belmont Secondary.

“It’s different, but it’s a good opportunity,’’ said Bissett.

“We’re busy, but we manage to get things done. We’re on the ice every day and in the gym every day.’’

“I don’t mind the time,’’ said Harris. “We get enough time to hang out with the billets and stuff. I think it’s gone pretty good.’’

“Tiring,’’ said Faustino of the experience but he makes it work. “I leave at six in the morning and get home between six and seven at night.’’

The players all feel great about the progress they’re making.

“A lot of development,’’ said Faustino. “I’ve probably been on the ice more than two seasons.’’

“And we still have five more months,’’ said Harris.

“Strength on the ice is getting better, also getting smarter.’’

“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger, faster overall,’’ said Bissett. “Development’s been good.’’

The boys have also enjoyed some great experiences with the team, including trips to Littleton, Colorado, just outside of Denver, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

PCHA also won a tournament in Duncan Jan. 3 to 5 by beating the host Cowichan Valley Midget AAA Capitals’ team that includes Bissett’s older brother Keegan 1-0 in the final. Connor Bissett got an assist on the game’s lone goal.

All three players were solid in the tournament. PCHA beat North Shore Winter Club in a shootout in the semifinals, with Faustino depositing the winner.

If not for the PCHA opportunity, “I’d also be playing on some (other) midget team,’’ joked Faustino. “It’s a good experience, great development.’’

“It opens up tons of doors for us,’’ said Bissett, who hopes to eventually go the college-university route in hockey.

“You can always get a degree,’’ he said. “If hockey doesn’t work out, you always have a back-up plan.’’

“I’m thinking of going through NCAA, going through that way and making my way up through there,’’ said Harris.

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