History will note that Ryan Howse was the first ever player acquired by the Chilliwack Bruins through the WHL Bantam Draft. At the 2006 edition, the Bruins certainly made the most of that selection while arriving on the scene as a WHL expansion team.
“It was exciting as a young guy, an exciting time in my life,” Howse said during an interview with Hockey’s Future. “It’s a whole new experience when you get to your WHL club. Things change.”
And change has undoubtedly become the operative word in Howse’s life over the past two seasons. Primarily, the relocation process from his hometown of Prince George, known as British Columbia’s Northern Capital, has required the most adjustment.
“You know, you move away from home and you’re kind of on your own,” Howse said. “Your playing hockey with a lot of older guys and that’s huge. I feel like I’ve matured a lot. Things certainly have changed over the couple years I have been away from home.”
According to Bruins’ general manager Darrell Porter, the entire on-ice and off-ice process has presented challenges for Howse.
“It’s been a tough go for Ryan here, I think mostly because of the development of our club,” Porter said. “But I think he has handled it very well. Frankly, for a guy to have 30 goals on our team the way we struggle to score, I think it speaks volumes about the way he has contributed.
“But I think where we’ve really seen growth in Ryan is the way he has matured off the ice since he joined us. He graduated on time with the best marks of his life in school and that’s not by accident. Sure, he’s matured through being away from home and becoming a young man through the experiences with the hockey club.
“Part of what thrust him into having to mature more quickly is the state of our team. We are a very young team and in his second year he is a veteran and a leader here. There aren’t many teams in this league that have to put their 17-year-olds into that role, whether they are a high bantam draft pick or not. But Ryan has to be that guy among our group.”
Howse, who checks in at 5-11 and 185 pounds, will celebrate hi 19th birthday in July. He recognizes the challenges the young organization is facing, yet he takes it all in stride. The well spoken forward admits he enjoys the hockey experience in Chilliwack for a number of reasons.
“At the start it was a little hard to get used to it,” he said. “It’s a good thing for me that I am still here in B.C., though. It’s a privilege for me that my parents and family can come down here and see me play.
“And in Chilliwack, we have great fan support. We haven’t been very good this season, but the support has been great and we get a lot of fans out, especially when we play some of the better teams in the league. I really like the rivalry with Vancouver (Giants) because we always have a full house and the Prospera Centre is just a great building to play in.”
While the Bruins will not make the playoffs this season, Howse has made the most of his second WHL season. A skilled and productive left-handed shooting forward, Howse has collected 30 goals and 13 assists in 59 games this season. While he has yet to crack International Scouting Service’s Top 30 ranked prospects, there is no doubt he is firmly on the radar among NHL scouts.
“There is talk about him every game,” Porter confirmed. “Every game that I am in the media room, there are NHL scouts there and they tend to talk about two of our players all the time. That’s Ryan Howse and Brandon Manning (2009). They ask us about their goals, their development, their strengths. It happens almost every day."
Howse is unquestionably the leader in Chilliwack these days, yet there is a unique link with Manning, a 6-1, 180-pound defenseman.
“It’s nice to have someone on your team from your hometown when you have to play away from home,” Howse said. “Brandon wasn’t here during my 16-year-old year because he got hurt at the training camp and went home and played in the BCHL instead. He got called up to Chilliwack at the end of the season and played really well and he’s been very good this year.
“We played together in minor hockey. We know each other and our families are close. We have built a pretty strong friendship over the past couple of years.”
And Porter appreciates the relationship among his top prospects. However, he admits he notices a different mindset between the two when the Bruins make the long bus trip from Chilliwack to Prince George, home of the WHL Cougars. The teams have become bitter B.C. Division foes.
“I don’t think Ryan really enjoys playing up there anymore,” Porter said. “That’s something he has always felt awkward about because he’s a member of the Bruins, not the Cougars. It’s a smaller city and I’m not sure he really chomps at the bit to go up there to play. I think Brandon maybe approaches it differently. They certainly are two guys who are very linked together. It’s their draft year, they’re both from Prince George and they train together.”
Given the significant travel required to get there, WHL teams typically play doubleheaders in Prince George. That is, games on consecutive nights. While still a member of the local midget team in Prince George, Howse suited up for the Bruins during the 2006-07 season for a pair of games against the Cougars. The local boy made good, so to speak, scoring his first WHL game with Chilliwack in Prince George.
“I actually played six games that season with Chilliwack,” Howse said. “Two were in Prince George and three in Chilliwack, then there was one playoff game against Vancouver.
“It was a pretty good feeling scoring that first goal in Prince George. Someone hit me in the corner, but I beat him for the puck and came out and shot it under the goalies’ glove. It was a pretty exciting moment as a 15-year-old.
“Back then, I think the fans liked me more than they do now. It was neat to score in front of my friends and family. There were a few cheers. When I went back to Prince George this year, I was the villain. I guess I’m not going to be a hero in that city anymore, except maybe off the ice around the little guys when I can help them out.
“On the ice, I want the two points for my team. That’s the way I play.”
This season, head coach Jim Hiller has Howse playing in all situations. He has played with a few different line combinations, but recently the trio of Howse, Kevin Sunder (2010) and David Robinson (FA) have demonstrated the chemistry and puck control that should keep them united for some time.
During his first full season in Chilliwack, Howse played behind a couple of the league’s top offensive producers in Mark Santorelli (NAS) and Oscar Moller (LA). In fact, Santorelli won the WHL scoring title last season. Howse says he learned plenty from both high-octane forwards.
“Those guys are two huge role models,” Howse said. “I sat beside Oscar in the dressing room last year and he’s a great player. Things haven’t been great in Chilliwack this season, but I just got a phone call from Oscar and he’s just telling me to relax and play the best I can and the results will come. It was huge hearing from him, just knowing that he’d take the time out of his day to help an old team mate.”
With the 2009 NHL Entry Draft on the Horizon, Howse is confident in his skills and understands his short-term development is destined to continue in junior hockey.
“I know my skills and strengths and I also know I have to continue to improve,” Howse said. “There’s always room for that and I know I’ve learned since I’ve been here. Obviously skating and shooting the puck are strengths, but I also have to become a more detailed defensive guy. I’m just lucky to have Jim Hiller coaching here because he is really helpful and I have learned from him.”
And Porter agrees, suggesting Howse has a knack for scoring that is evident in another B.C Division foe, Jamie Benn (DAL) of the Kelowna Rockets.
“Ryan just has a natural gift for scoring goals,” Porter said. “He’s explosive and has a tremendous shot and a great instinct for scoring goals. Most hockey guys will tell you that it can be hard to pinpoint just what it is with the guys that just have a knack for scoring but Ryan has that gift.”
With the current campaign winding down in Chilliwack, Howse and his teammates can only look forward to next season and the opportunities that will come with growing the Bruins’ organization. For his part, with an eye on the future, Howse is adamant that he likes what he sees.
“Absolutely,” he said. “there’s no place I’d rather be right now.”