Off the Radar: Jason Bast

By Glen Erickson

A host of “p” words come to mind when assessing the hockey career of Jason Bast to date.

Persistent. Perseverance. Patience. Productive. Potential.

“As soon as we put him on skates, he seemed to be getting pulled up for games at the higher levels,” said Brian Bast, Jason’s father. “It seemed there were always teams that wanted to keep Jason at the end of the seasons.”

While the beginnings were all positive and good fun during the minor hockey days in Hockey Regina programs, Brian admits he and his wife Karen began to wonder if Jason would ever be given more serious looks as he grew older and the game became more competitive.

“Well, it has certainly been interesting sitting back and watching him accept these things,” Brian said. “We think he probably should have been given more opportunities along the way, but somehow being overlooked seems to drive him even more.”

Passed up at the WHL Bantam Draft

Bast, who will celebrate his 20th birthday in June, was not chosen during the 2004 WHL Bantam Draft. He had just completed a successful season as the captain of the Prairie Storm. The team won the city championship that season and Bast was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.

“It was surprising to us that he was overlooked in the bantam draft,” Brian said. “We thought at least the Regina Pats might have taken a look at him, even in the late rounds.”

If size indeed mattered in 2004, Bast was logically one of the players on the cusp of actually being totally ignored by both junior and professional teams. The commitment by the NHL toward a heightened rules enforcement approach had not been confirmed yet and the era of recognizing the potential of smaller, skilled forwards had not totally emerged. But he continued to work feverishly to get noticed.

“Personally, I didn’t expect to be picked because of my size,” Jason said. “But I knew if I kept working hard, my chances would come.”

An invitation to a SaskFirst camp enabled Bast to catch the eye of the Moose Jaw Warriors. SaskFirst is a provincial sport governing body program coordinated by the Saskatchewan Amateur Hockey Association that helps to identify athletes for participation in the Canada Winter Games and eventually, the World U17 Championship. Among SaskFirst program alumni in the NHL are Cory Sarich, Patrick Marleau, Rhett Warriner, Robin Regehr, Jaret Stoll, Nick Schultz, Brendan Morrow and Ryan Getzlaf. Midway through the week, the Warriors advised Bast they would be listing him.

“I knew Lou Reed, one of the Moose Jaw scouts,” Bast said. “He had actually coached me one summer with SaskFirst and he came over to talk to me about being listed. I was surprised and didn’t know what to say, but I was glad to get the opportunity.”

Not quite the “Hounds” of Notre Dame

Bast moved on to play midget hockey at Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. The renowned program has helped to develop plenty of NHL talent including the likes of Wendel Clark, Curtis Joseph, Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Rod Brind’Amour, Gary Leeman, Lyndon Byers and Gord Kluzak.

During his first and only season at Notre Dame, Bast played for the Argos, not the more well-known Hounds. In recent years, Notre Dame College has been icing two midget teams. The Hounds select the top 22 players at the school and the Argos select the next best 22 players. Bast was coached in Wilcox by Kevin White, whose enthusiasm for the player’s skill set is very evident.

“Back then, size was a big thing against Jason,” White said. “He might have been about 5’7, 130 pounds and this was before the new rules enforcement came in. He could have played for any midget team in Saskatchewan that year, but he and his family knew he would get quality ice time with the Argos that he probably wouldn’t have gotten on another team. The Argos were a good fit for him.

“Jason came here for grade 10, actually his family moved here. He only played one year here and was registered for a second. He was ready to come back and would have played for the Hounds.

“During his season with the Argos, he was listed by Moose Jaw and the next season he went into camp there and stuck. I’m not surprised now, but I was surprised then that he made it at 16. This stuff doesn’t shock me at all. You could see he was tireless worker, great skater, great shot, great release, a great head for the game. Jason was a fearless competitor. Any success he achieves is very well-earned.”

Hard work rewarded

Now in his fourth season with the Warriors, Bast checks in at 5’10 and 180 pounds. No longer a diminutive forward, Bast can relish in the fact that he has played among a host of Warriors who are now vying for jobs in the NHL. The list includes Riley Holzapfel (ATL), Blair Jones and Ty Wishart (TB), Kenndall McArdle and Keaton Ellerby (FLA) and current teammate Travis Hamonic (NYI).

“I went in not really knowing about most of the players,” Bast said. “But we had an incredible team. It was nice to put up all those wins but then we lost a bunch of guys afterward and didn’t make the playoffs the next year."

Bast has certainly extricated himself from these long shadows, particularly during the 2007-08 season. During his breakout campaign, which occurred after being bypassed yet again, this time at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Bast collected 34 goals and 45 assists while playing in all 72 regular season games. In a six-game, first-round playoff defeat to the Calgary Hitmen, Bast scored five goals and six assists. He spent the majority of the season playing between Jordan Knackstedt and Fraser McLaren.

“I just got put into more situations and saw a lot more ice time,” Bast said. “I had great linemates too and the more we played, the more we seemed to always know where to find each other out there.”
 
He is now a WHL veteran of 241 games for the Warriors, prior to the ADT Canada/Russia series.

The call from Hockey Canada

Finally, a significant opportunity greeted Bast this past week as he participated as a member of Team WHL in the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge. Considered an important tune-up for Hockey Canada in its selection process for the World Junior Championship, the games in Swift Current and Prince Albert enabled Bast to strut his stuff against many of the WHL’s elite.

Head coach Willi Desjardins, who rolled four lines in Swift Current for Team WHL, had Bast playing between Kyle Beach (CHI) of the Everett Silvertips and Brandon Kozun of the Calgary Hitmen. In the third period, with Kozun on the shelf with an injury, Colton Sceviour (DAL) of the Lethbridge Hurricanes took a few shifts in his place. Bast, who was stopped on a clear-cut breakaway in the final frame by 6’5, 220-pound Russian goaltender Sergey Gayduchenko, appeared to be double-shifted on occasion, ostensibly providing the speedy forward an opportunity to further prove himself to the Hockey Canada brass.

“The whole Hockey Canada experience, well, I was kind of nervous going in because I didn’t know what to expect, Bast said.

Of the breakway, Bast kind of shrugged.

“I went in looking to shoot, shot but there was just no room,” he said. “I went backhand but just didn’t get the puck up.”

Alas, time will tell for Jason Bast, a consistent performer at the junior level who has NHL aspirations. Years ago, Bast would have been destined for a career in Europe, a haven for supposedly under-sized juniors unable to earn a look from NHL teams focused on big, physical power forwards. At best these days, Bast would seem likely to be capable of building a productive AHL career.

If a job in professional hockey doesn’t materialize, it certainly won’t be for lack of effort. Perhaps, in a worst-case scenario for Bast, he may find himself playing Canadian University hockey, an opportunity available through the WHL’s outstanding educational program. And really, for a kid with great skills that many have frequently chosen to overlook, the CIS remains a pretty good alternative.

“A year from now,” Bast said, “I’d like to play out this year and get a pro tryout somewhere. But if I have to play my 20-year-old here in Moose Jaw, that’ll be okay, too. I just want to further my career.”