Jake Virtanen has been a lot of places in his hockey career.
The Vancouver Canucks’ firstround draft pick, sixth overall, in 2014, played his junior hockey career with the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen, and won a gold medal with Canada at the World Junior Championships last January. But he hasn’t forgotten his roots.
Along with goalie hopeful Jackson Whistle of Kelowna, Virtanen was one of just two B.C. boys at the Canucks’ Development Camp at Shawnigan Lake School this past week. Virtanen grew up in Abbotsford and had travelled to several tournaments on the Island in his minor hockey days, something he recalled fondly.
"It’s been an awesome experience coming here," he said on Wednesday, the last day the Vancouver prospects were at the school’s new arena. "Not many guys on the team really know about Shawnigan."
Virtanen noted he was looking forward to showing his campmates the view from the ferry as they headed back to the Mainland, and was pleased to get to show them a lesser-seen part of the province.
The right wing, who will turn 19 in August, was also pleased with the number of Island fans who turned out for the public sessions at the camp, which included a hree-on-three tournament on Tuesday evening.
"There are great fans here," he said. "It’s been packed every day."
Stan Smyl, a Canucks legend now serving as senior advisor to GM Jim Benning and director of player development, was also impressed with the fan turnout.
"It’s called the Vancouver Canucks but it’s the whole province of B.C. that follows the team," he said. "It’s good for these young guys to experience that. This camp shows the passion of our fans [in the Cowichan Valley]. People are coming out in July to watch them.
"This was a great opportunity to come over to Vancouver Island and see what the province of British Columbia has to offer."
Next on Virtanen’s schedule is the national junior team’s camp in Calgary next month, although he’s hoping he can crack the Canucks roster this fall, which would complicate matters with regard to a return to the championships.
"There will be a lot of good guys out there pushing for spots," he said. "My goal is to stick with Vancouver, so it will be their choice if I go or not."