Two more South Cariboo boys are taking their talents to the “hockey hotbed” of North Dakota in the fall.
100 Mile House Wranglers forwards Cole Zimmerman and Brett Harris will be lacing up stateside in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) next season, playing Division 1 hockey with the University of Jamestown Jimmies, a brand new team at the liberal arts college led by coach Dean Stork.
(Reece Forman, a defenceman from 108 Mile Ranch, is currently playing his first season in the ACHA with the Minot State University Beavers. The Jimmies and the Beavers are set to meet 10 times next season, with 100 Mile House talent on each side.)
Stork has targeted a number of Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) players for recruitment as he builds the program from scratch in his image. He says the KIJHL will be his “major recruiting pipeline” going forward.
“The best players out of the KIJHL end up being top players in the ACHA Division 1 league. By the time they are juniors and seniors, you’re going to have a really good opportunity in winning a national title.”
Stork has plenty of positive things to say about Zimmerman, 20, and Harris, 21, as individual players – top scorers this season for the Wranglers, on the edge of top spot in the Doug Birks Division with playoffs around the corner – as well as the 100 Mile House Junior B Hockey Club program, led by coach Dale Hladun the last two years.
“They know how to win,” Stork says of Harris and Zimmerman.
“Dale has done a good job with his coaching and structure and his work ethic. He’s a great communicator. I have a tight relationship with Dale and I’m going after players that have been on winning teams.”
Of Zimmerman, Stork says: “Cole brings an element to 100 Mile House with his size, skating ability and his shot. He doesn’t shy away from the physical point of the game. He’s a threat every time he’s on the ice.”
Stork says he can help the 6 foot 3 forward develop even more. Looking four years down the road, Stork says Zimmerman has professional hockey potential.
“A lot of teams will give him an opportunity when he has graduated college. That’s why I really went after Cole.”
Stork sees Harris taking on a leadership role in Jamestown. The crafty, smooth-skating junior hockey veteran has great two-way skills and the right mentality.
“He’s a smart player; he thinks the game really well. He can play at both ends of the ice.
“He can defend, he can create offence. And he’s a good leader in the locker room.”
Considering how popular the sport of hockey is in North Dakota, Jamestown should have started a hockey program 10 years ago, says Stork. With big teams in Minot State University and the University of North Dakota, good junior teams in Bismarck, Fargo and Aberdeen, and plenty of good high school hockey, there’s no shortage of talent packed into the small upper mid-western state.
“It is a hockey hotbed,” says Stork, who expects the 1,600-fan capacity arena to be packed when they finally hit the ice.
“It sends shivers down my body just thinking about the drop of the puck at our home opener.”
Harris says he’s looking forward to the new opportunity. And the fact he’ll be playing against Forman, a good friend and former teammate in Saskatchewan Junior A, is exciting too.
“From what I hear, the area of Jamestown loves hockey. Hopefully, we’ll raise a few banners this year [with the Wranglers] and then I’ll start focusing on Jamestown.”
Zimmerman has been a Wrangler since the team’s inaugural season in 2013. He is also excited for this next new step.
“It was a lot to think about, schooling-wise and the hockey, which will be pretty exciting. I think me and Harry will have a good time playing somewhere new.”
Of his time in 100 Mile House, Zimmerman says he’ll remember the feeling of playing in front of the passionate hometown crowd the most.
“It’s been a pretty good three years, and each year, it’s got better and better for us.”
Needless to say, their current coach is happy for them, too. They’ll be a good fit with the brand new franchise, says Hladun.
“It’s a good level to continue playing. North Dakota, that’s a hockey state. I think it will be exciting for them.”
Hladun praised Harris’ commitment to the club and Zimmerman’s development in the time he’s coached him.
The recruitment factor is good news for the Wranglers as an organization, Hladun adds. Junior B hockey isn’t always the most attractive option for players, but this proves there are opportunities that can arise from it.
Incentive is a big part of building a successful program, says Hladun, who highlights the importance of the local organization’s fundraising initiatives in helping to support Wranglers alumni when they move on to different levels of hockey.
“We’re going to get better players and they’re going to be proud to be a Wrangler because the Wranglers helped them beyond hockey.”