The Seattle Thunderbirds franchise has been housing talent
beginning in their inaugural season as the Breakers in 1977-78. Since then, a total of 88 players have been selected by NHL
teams in the annual Entry Draft. There have only been two years (1981 and 1983) in the T-Birds 28-year history,
when none of its players were drafted. Their highest number was during the 1997 draft, when eight players were selected by NHL franchises. Of the drafted players, 36 percent,
for a total of 32 alumni have seen action in the NHL.
Of the draftees who have had the opportunity to play in the world’s best league, some of the most noteworthy players among the ranks are Ryan Walter (1978), Tim Hunter (1979), Ken Daneyko (1982), Chris Joseph (1987), Petr Nedved (1990), Brendan Witt (1993), Patrick Marleau (1997), and Oleg Saprykin (1999).
The latest generation of drafted up-and-coming Thunderbirds include Zack FitzGerald (STL), Clayton Barthel (WSH), Aaron Gagnon (PHX), Ryan Gibbons (PHX), Nate Thompson (BOS), Ladislav Scurko (PHI) and Matthew Hansen (VAN).
Not far behind of their drafted cohorts are 2005 eligible prospects who include forwards, Chris Durand, Denis Tolpeko, Yashar Farmanara, Kyle Fecho, David Linsley, James McEwan, defensemen Scott Jackson, Bretton Stamler, as well as goalie Bryan Bridges.
When the Central Scouting 2005 mid-term rankings were released in January, three of the eight 2005’s
playing for Thunderbirds found themselves among the top 50 amongst North
Chris Durand, C – 6’1, 185, Saskatoon, SASK
Headlining the group this year is the hardworking, overachieving center, Chris Durand. Playing his formative years back in Saskatoon, Durand steadily ascended through the ranks of youth hockey. It was his second year of Bantam where he said he felt that he could make hockey a big part of his life. In order to prepare himself for the future, Durand took a serious approach which began with a lot of off-ice training and intense summer workouts.
He would go onto play his final season back at home with the Saskatoon Contacts, a Midget triple-A team. From there, he joined the Thunderbirds. He has been an impact player with Seattle from day one and it showed when he was named to Team West for the 2004 U-17 World Championships in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He would go onto finish out the season with Seattle and earned Rookie of the Year honors for the 2003-04 season.
This year, Durand is currently second on the team in scoring and continues to be a consistent force for Seattle. Head Coach Rob Sumner credits his overall skill, ability and the hard work he puts in especially in their own zone.
”I am not a real flashy player but I find a way to get it done every night,”
said Durand on the keys to his success in the WHL for second straight year. “I just bring what I know best, every night.”
With the Thunderbirds soaring this season, Durand likes to keep things simple.
“The mental part of the game is something that I think sets me above,” he explained. “I have to stay consistent by doing the things I know how to do the best. That includes being out there and being able to think and make things happen.”
And by getting all those little things done, he has moved himself into to an elite level among other top junior players in the CHL. In late January, he was selected to participate in the 2005 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Vancouver, B.C. Even though he was kept off the scorer’s sheet, he said it was a moment that he would have never missed in a million years.
“It was a great experience and a great game to be a part of,” he said about the event. “There were great players from all across the country. It was an exciting game and I was proud to be associated with it.”
As Durand continues to make strides with Seattle, he credits the overall experience and time he has logged in junior with the Thunderbirds.
“It’s a great prestigious league and being a part of it is really special,” he said.
Even though he is getting closer to his dream of playing in the NHL, he said that he actually uses that thought as a motivational tool to succeed in junior.
“It’s a long grind, but every game is very important in this league,” he added.
For now, Durand has his eyes trained on finishing out the season on top in the U.S. Division and gearing up with hopes of going deep into the playoffs.
Scott Jackson, D – 6’1, 185, Salmon Arm, B.C.
Growing up in Salmon Arm, B.C., Scott Jackson was introduced to game by making a rink in his
backyard. Progressing at a young age, Jackson moved through the ranks in the Salmon Arm minor hockey ranks. Before joining the Thunderbirds for his first full season in 2003-04, he played in the KIHJL with the Sicamous Eagles.
Playing ahead of the curve has also been something Jackson has been used to. Before joining Seattle, he spent a lot of time preparing himself for what has turned out to be a great junior career thus far.
“I tried to get used to playing with the older guys at first and using my size to my advantage,” Jackson explained about his progression. “That has been one thing that has helped a lot. I focus on playing to my strengths and trying to develop more and more every year.”
It showed during his 2003-04 season. Jackson continued to grow and started to standout on a very young squad. For his effort, he was named to Team Pacific for the 2004 U-17 World Championships in St. John’s, Newfoundland. After earning a silver medal, he returned to the Thunderbirds and went on to be named defensemen of year for Seattle.
Noted to play with a nice balance of grit and guile, Jackson is on is way to becoming a well-rounded defensemen. Not afraid to throw the body,
Coach Sumner stated that he is one of the better players that can give that big open ice hit.
“I’ve been trying to be very physical and use my size,” Jackson explained. “But, I also like to focus on making the right plays when I can.”
This season, Sumner also commented on how well his overall game is coming along.
“He’s just an intelligent player all over,” Sumner said. “He reads the game very well and does a great job of making the right adjustments.”
Asked whether he would consider making any changes to his approach since the NHL scouts are coming around and he said, “I don’t want to change it too much because what I have been doing good throughout my career has gotten me to where I am now. There are always things you want to improve on. As far as any drastic changes, I don’t want to explore that just yet.”
However, Sumner is convinced that Jackson will become more appealing as he continues to round out his overall game.
“I encourage him to have a little bit of an offensive mind out there,” Sumner added.
To date, Jackson has already surpassed last season’s totals and continues to improve on what will more
than likely be a great follow-up to his 2003-04 freshman campaign in the WHL.
Jackson, like Durand, was also selected to play 2005 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. Both were teammates on Team Davidson in the event headlined by the western Canadian phenom, Gilbert
“That was an amazing experience to play with all those guys,” Jackson
said. “Not only was it great to play with them but it was also great to practice with and go through the skills testing with them too. Just to be around all the top guys and in hockey like Cherry and Davidson was the best part. It’s great get to play with the top guys in your age bracket because it’s a great place to measure yourself against to the top talent.”
As he adds another feather in his cap, Jackson will continue to develop and progress with Seattle with an eye towards a future in the NHL. Fortunately for Seattle, he knows that regardless of where he ends up, he is having the time of his life in the WHL.
“You definitely want to keep with a team like Seattle because we got something really good going right
now,” Jackson explained about his present and future opportunities. ” We want to stay focused and concentrated here first but it (the NHL draft) is getting closer and closer. It’s just right there.”
Bretton Stamler, D – 6’1, 199, Beaumont, AB
The most underrated prospect on a loaded T-Birds squad is Bretton Stamler. Growing up in Beaumont, a small suburb of Edmonton, the 6’1
defenseman rounds out the hot list. With the help from one of his closet allies, his father Greg and his continued love for the game, he has literally come out of nowhere with the Thunderbirds this year.
“He had quite the background and got me started rather early with skating,” Stamler explained. “Very early on he emphasized skating because that’s the key when you move up in the ranks.”
When asked just how big of an impact his dad had on his development Stamler stated, “Huge. My hockey sense is one of the biggest parts of my game as
is skating. Those are two things I learned from him.”
Continuing to work hard with his dad, Stamler would rise through the younger ranks. He spent the 2003-03 season with the Sherwood Park Kings before joining the Thunderbirds for his first complete season in 2003-04.
“I think the biggest thing with me, was that I really worked hard,” Stamler noted about his success, prior to joining Seattle in the WHL. “Between about Bantam and Major, I took a big leap and hit a grow spurt. I continued to work hard and the results paid off because I was selected early in the Bantam draft.”
One thing that should be noted about Stamler, is overall work ethic, determination and dedication to the sport.
After turning in an average season with the Thunderbirds last year, Stamler went back to the drawing board. He spent the whole off-season working out and conditioning with former T-Birds forward, Steven Goertzen (CBJ). So far, that has
shown to be the difference.
Sumner stated that Stamler took a huge approach in the off-season to add a physical edge, which he believes has helped him confidence.
“With Bretton, the intelligence is there,” Sumner added. “He just commits himself to a higher level. His approach to this season has really put him on the radar this year.”
Stamler reflected on his hard work over the summer, “It has added a whole other dimension to my game with physical play. I know that is something people look at while going into the draft. One of my strengths right now has to be my physical edge. I was able to gain some quickness and explode of my first step.”
He says he wasn’t that much of a physical player last year, but he can stand here today and be proud of what he has accomplished.
For Stamler, the learning won’t stop in the WHL or even the next step in what he hopes is a successful career in hockey. Tapping that determination and strong work ethic, he is set to make a some NHL teams continue to take a solid look at him.
“I’m a hard worker who competes and a good skater who can move the puck,” Stamler offered on what he could add to an NHL club. “I think there a lot of parts of my game that I still have to develop, like offensive and consistency. That has been a issue for me right now. In the future, I just think I’m a guy who competes and works hard. Those are the two best selling points for me right now.”
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