What’s it feel like to lead a hockey team that has played 27 games and won 25 of them?
It feels pretty great, according to North Van Wolf Pack captain and PJHL league-leading scorer Lucas Barker.
“This has probably been by far my favourite season of hockey,” said Barker. To hear the 20-year-old North Vancouver native tell it, however, it seems as if the wins are just part of package that has made this season so memorable.
Barker fits the mould of many recent Wolf Pack stars, talented North Shore players who have ventured out into hockey hotspots across Western Canada and beyond in search of high-level leagues, only to discover that the place they really want to be is back home playing good hockey with great friends. Barker, for instance, left North Van in his Grade 12 year to play for the Burnaby Winter Club hockey academy, and then after graduating ventured all the way to Manitoba for a season of junior A hockey with the Winkler Flyers. There were some good things and some bad things about going that far away to play – “it was cold,” he said with a laugh – but at the end of the season he decided to come back to the West Coast.
“I missed home,” he said. “I thought I’d enjoy hockey more and I’d enjoy life more if I was living in Vancouver. Nothing really beats it here – it’s probably the best place in the world to live.”
So was it a good decision to come back home to play for the junior B juggernaut Wolf Pack?
“That was probably the best decision I’ve made,” he said. “I’ve never really played on a team this tight. All the boys are really close, we don’t exclude anyone. It’s a great environment to be in, it really helps the boys – if you love to be there, you’re that much more excited to play. And winning makes it that much better.”
Barker has known several of his Wolf Pack teammates since they were youngsters just learning how to skate.
“It’s pretty much all my buddies from when I was younger. We’ve all gone off to play higher level hockey and decided to come home. We already have that chemistry growing up playing together. It’s really helping, and it shows this season.”
The Wolf Pack is equally happy that Barker came back.
“He definitely has the respect of the dressing room,” said head coach and GM Matt Samson after naming Barker the team’s captain at the start of the season. “He leads by example, he works hard, he’s vocal when he needs to be and at times he’ll let his play on the ice do the talking.”
Last year Barker was North Van’s leading scorer as the Wolf Pack won their second PJHL title, and this year the team is on a record-setting pace with Barker tallying 29 goals and 28 assists for a league-leading 57 points in 27 games.
But despite wearing the “C” and piling up points, Barker balks at the notion that he is “leading” the team.
“For the most part I forget that I even have it,” he said about the letter on his chest. “It is an honour to be able to be named captain and to lead a team, but we’re all equals on the team. That’s just how it is with this group of guys.”
He’s certainly not alone on the statistical leaderboard. Teammates Dominic Davis, Jacob Fournier and Alex Suprynowicz are second, third and fourth in the league in points, respectively, while Jacob Callas leads all defencemen in the league in points and goalies Bradley Cooper and Eric Clark are both top-three in the league in wins and goals-against average.
Put that talent and team chemistry together, and Barker said the Wolf Pack has what it takes to win another PJHL title and challenge for the provincial Cyclone Taylor Cup championship, a prize that the franchise has never won.
“I think we have a record-breaking team here,” said Barker. “I think we have the potential to win it all. I would love to go to Cyclone and take the championship there, but I can’t get ahead of myself. Our goal right now is to win 40 games this season, so that’s the first step. And then next step would be to win the playoffs there – it’s one game, one round at a time – and then hopefully go to Cyclone and get a championship there as well.”
The Wolf Pack will be back in action on the road in Maple Ridge Friday for a game against the Ridge Meadows Flames before hosting the White Rock Whalers Saturday starting at 7 p.m. at Harry Jerome Arena. Saturday's game will feature the popular Teddy Bear Toss in support of Family Services of the North Shore.
In the New Year the Wolf Pack will be on display along with the rest of the league at the PJHL Winter Classic tournament Jan. 3-5 at Richmond Arena. Each team will play two regular season games over the three-day competition, with North Van facing Grandview Jan. 3 at 10 a.m. and Richmond Jan. 5 at 7 p.m.
Also in the New Year the Wolf Pack will team up with Special Olympics BC – North Shore during a Jan. 25 game at Harry Jerome. All advanced ticket sales purchased through Special Olympics BC – North Shore plus the 50-50 revenue from the game will go to the charity.