One of the biggest draws of playing in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) is the ability to retain NCAA eligibility while still developing in one of the world’s top junior leagues. The 16-team league is based in Canada’s westernmost province with all of the teams relatively close to the US/Canada border, with the exception of Prince George.
A large percentage of the league’s alumni have gone on to play professional hockey and many have had long and distinguished NHL careers including Brett Hull, Paul Kariya, and Ray Ferraro.
For the Penticton Vees’ 16 year old star defenseman Dante Fabbro, maintaining his NCAA eligibility is important because, despite being the eighth overall pick of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, he can still see himself playing college hockey one day.
The 6’0″ and 180 pound Fabbro grew up in Whistler, BC, about 125km north of Vancouver. It was there that he picked up on the game from an early age.
“My dad and my grandpa really pushed me towards it,” says Fabbro. “I started rollerblading around three to my sister’s school and stuff like that. My parents decided to put me into power skating. I excelled there, then went on.”
Fabbro’s hockey career started out with the Coquitlam hockey association. From there, he moved on to the Burnaby Winter Club for atom, peewee, and bantam. In his final year for the Burnaby Winter Club, he scored 78 points in 58 games including 25 goals. He also served as captain of his team.
In the summer of 2013, the Seattle Thunderbirds made him the eighth overall pick of the WHL’s bantam draft.
Even though he has not yet decided whether or not to sign with the Thunderbirds, he still stays in contact with the team.
“Every now and then they give me a call to see what’s going on. They came down here a while ago to check out a game and see how I’m doing.”
Mathew Barzal, a top prospect for this year’s NHL Draft, is not only a close childhood friend of Fabbro’s but also a star center for the Thunderbirds. The two maintain a close friendship and speak to each other every day.
“He doesn’t have anything bad to say about them,” says Fabbro. “He says the fans are really into the game and they have a really young team this year which he thinks is good for them.”
That same summer, Fabbro participated in the Thunderbird’s training camp. Although he was much younger than the other players, he felt like he stood his ground well and the opportunity presented a good challenge for him.
A few months after attending the Thunderbird’s training camp, Fabbro made an unofficial visit to the University of Wisconsin. The Badgers’ hockey program is believed to be the frontrunner to land the talented youngster.
“My dad is big on education, same with my grandpa, kind of my whole family,” says Fabbro.
When the Fabbros visited the campus, they were given a tour of the facility as well as the chance to meet some of the coaches and players.
“It was awesome, they have an unreal facility out there. It was a crazy atmosphere and pretty cool.”
In addition to Wisconsin, Fabbro has also visited Boston University, Boston College, Yale, and Harvard. He has plans to make additional trips out to Denver and North Dakota.
Even though his father and grandfather might be pushing him towards going the NCAA route, the final decision will be made by him, Fabbro says.
“They’re 50-50 but they’ll support whatever my decision is. At the end of the day it’s my decision and they’ll support me with whatever I do.”
For the 2013-14 hockey season, Fabbro played midget hockey for the Vancouver NW Giants of the BCMML. In 38 games, he scored 22 goals and assisted on 39 others for 61 points. He added 10 more points in six playoff games.
At the end of the season, he had the opportunity to play two games for the Langley Rivermen of the BCHL. Although he was held off the scoresheet, it was a good learning experience for Fabbro.
“It was different from midget but the overall experience helped me with a confidence booster. The guys on that team really helped me through the process and the coaches were awesome.”
At the end of his two-game stint, Fabbro knew he had a choice to make. With the help of a family advisor as well as the urging of a few friends, Fabbro decided that Penticton would be the best for his development as well as keeping his future options open.
“I had a meeting in the summer time and coming into the meeting I didn’t know what I was going to do, and then towards the end I put my finger on Penticton and can’t complain,” says Fabbro. “They really presented an opportunity for me to improve on my hockey. They really showed an opportunity for me to get a lot of ice time up here and play some key roles. I had a few buddies on the team that were trying to talk me into coming.”
So far this season, despite being the youngest regular on the blue line, he has found himself already contributing on the scoresheet. In 25 games, he has 18 points, three of them goals.
Despite his early success, he knows he still has a lot to work on when it comes to his game.
“I like to join up on the rush and stuff like that but I’m more picky and choosy now. Before I always took the puck up,” admits Fabbro.
His defensive partner, Gabe Bast, is also in his first year with the Vees. Fabbro and Bast, a native of Red Deer, Alberta, developed a quick friendship off the ice that helped them become effective together on the ice.
At the end of this season, Fabbro will make the decision on which path he will choose as he pushes towards his dream of playing in the NHL.
“My final decision will come after this hockey year. I don’t want any distractions for playoffs. I want to focus on what’s most important.”
What’s important now to Fabbro is helping the Vees win the Royal Bank Cup.
Follow Chau Vo on Twitter via @chowdersoop