There seems to be a noticeable increase among American-born players playing in Canada for WHL teams. One program who has helped lead this charge is the Colorado Thunderbirds. In recent years players like Cal and Nolan Foote and Max Gerlach, have made their way up into Canada.
Another player who fits this bill is Regina Pats forward Bryan Lockner. He is from Windsor, Colorado and came up with the Thunderbirds program. Lockner believes that the key to the increase in American players in the WHL has to do with programs like Colorado’s commitment to traveling around and showcasing their players.
“I think they expose themselves well. Coming up to Canada for tournaments and stuff. They have a good hockey director in Angelo Ricci. They’ve been developing players for the past few years now and it seems that a lot of them are coming up to Canada. Some are going to college but it seems like more and more are coming up here. I think it’s just a good organization and a lot of people are working at it now,” Lockner said.
Lockner chose to commit to playing for the Pats after they took him in the third round of the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, despite having a powerhouse Denver University NCAA program in his backyard. “Me being an American, it’s always tough. I felt like Regina is a great organization and John is a great coach. I thought it was a great fit for me and I’m happy with my decision.”
Lockner also participated in USA Hockey’s Select camps when he was 15, 16 and 17. “USA hockey is huge just like team Canada hockey. It’s fun throwing on your sweater. It’s been great for me playing against players in America and it was great coming up playing with those guys.”
Despite being left off the U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament roster for the U.S., he hopes he can play for the U-20 team at the World Junior Championships at some point. “It’s always one of the greatest times, representing your country and playing hockey. If the opportunity (World Juniors) ever comes, I would be all in for it.”
Lockner got to play way more than his 16-year-old compatriots in the WHL last year, as his Pats went all the way to the WHL final. While piling up 13 points in 62 regular season games and four points in 22 playoff games, he learned a lot.
“They are great veterans on that team. Some NHL experience and a lot of WHL experience. We had a couple of injuries last year, so I was able to step up and play. Getting to play with those older guys, really taught me how to come into this league and show yourself and just be a great player in this league.
Just playing those 22 games, it’s pretty much a whole second season in the playoffs. Just laying out for everything and playing for it all. The playoffs are a whole different animal. It was a great experience for me to play in all those games and play for the WHL championship.”
The tight-knit team that won the Eastern Conference a season ago, helped him deal with being so far away from home. “You always keep in touch with your family over the phone but it is always tough being away from them. When you got a good group of guys like this and a great organization like this, it makes you feel like you have a second home.”
Lockner is also excited for another playoff run this year, along with the Pats hosting the Memorial Cup in May as well. He knows that his spot is not set in stone though as head coach and general manager John Paddock has let it be known he is going to be making trades to load up on older talent.
“It’s fun to be the Memorial Cup team and knowing that it is there, but once again it’s never set in stone until January 11th. Knowing that is coming is great and it’s going to give me lots of exposure. Hopefully we do the best we can there.”
As for the trade talk that is sure to ramp up as we close in on January. “You can’t keep your mind on that because it will throw you off your game. You just have to go out there every night and just give it your all and give all you can to the team. You just can’t focus on that but instead worry about you and your team.”
Lockner is aware that he has some areas he needs to improve on. “I think I need to be a little quicker. I think I need to use my size a little better too.”
If he is able to make some improvements in these areas, he can help solidify his spot with the Pats. With so many games played last year and eight points through 28 games already this year, Lockner has had the chance to impress NHL scouts. Should he stay with the Pats, he will get a marquee event in the Memorial Cup to take advantage of even more eyes on him. If a goal in leaving home and going to play in Canada for the Pats was to get more exposure, that goal can certainly be considered accomplished.