It’s a dream 20 years in the making.
Jakob Stukel basically grew up in the shadows of General Motors Place, idolizing the Vancouver Canucks.
Last summer, the Canucks selected the hometown kid in the sixth round of the NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo N.Y.
He was fresh off his most productive WHL campaign. It was also the first time he was playing away from home, when the Calgary Hitmen traded for the left-winger 12 games into the season.
After 67 games with the Vancouver Giants, Stukel wasn’t getting it done. He only amassed nine goals and 24 points over three seasons.
The trade to Calgary opened up his game and turned him into an offensive juggernaut. He scored 32 goals and 56 points in 57 games in his first season in Calgary to lead the team in scoring.
Stukel was unstoppable on the man advantage. In his first season with the Hitmen, he led the league with 18 power play goals, accounting for half of his goal production. He even finished tied for second in the league with eight game winners, per WHL Stats Pro.
That summer, the Canucks were impressed enough to draft him with the 154th pick.
“I was a big Canuck fan growing up so it was very cool and a dream come true when they selected me,” said Stukel.
Stukel grew up playing hockey in the Lower Mainland, played his major midget season with the Valley West Hawks and wound up getting picked 37th overall by the Giants in the 2012 Bantam Draft.
Years later, he returned to the Lower Mainland to attend his first developmental camp with the Canucks last summer and was admittedly star-struck.
“Last year I was just in awe of everyone. I saw guys like Sami Salo and remembered how hard he could shoot the puck and remembered going to watch a pregame skate as a kid, when he flipped me a puck over the glass. It was a little nerve racking being around those guys at times,” said Stukel. “This year felt much different. I was much more relaxed, confident and I knew what to expect.”
This year’s camp ran from July 3 to 7, featuring a series of on-ice practices, off-ice training and team building exercises around the city.
“Coming into the camp for a second time, I wasn’t so much worried about results or impressing people like I was last year. They call it a developmental camp for a reason, so I went out and tried to get better everyday. Hopefully that was enough to prove myself to the coaching staff and management,” said Stukel, who’s favourite Canuck growing up was Markus Naslund.
Despite his parents house being roughly 39-kilometres away from Rogers Arena, Stukel still bunked with the other 36 players at the University of British Columbia dorms at night, as a way to help build team comradery.
The week wrapped up with a scrimmage, splitting the camp into a Blue and White squad. The game took place at Rogers Arena in front of an estimated 6,000 season ticket holders.
“That was my first time on the ice at Rogers Arena. I was in awe of the big building when I first stepped onto the ice, but once the game got going, I became focused and blocked everything out. But it was still a really cool experience,” said Stukel.
Like most developmental camps, the Canucks organized a few off-ice activities for the prospects.
On one of their afternoons off, the team split the group into teams of five and raced up Grouse Mountain.
Of course, there was a competitive side to the 1.8-kilometre long hike. The timer stopped for teams once the final player crossed the finish line, making it a team event as opposed to an individual race.
Lucky for Stukel, it is a hike he has done several times in the past and knew all the twists and turns of the mountain. His team ended up in first.
He couldn’t say the same thing when the Canucks went whitewater rafting in Whistler.
“I have never done that before, but it is definitely one of the coolest things that I’ve ever done,” said Stukel.
The guides smashed the boats through class 3- and 4-level rapids, nearly knocking a few of the players overboard.
But the most rewarding off-ice trip Stukel went on was when the Canucks paid a visit to the B.C. Children’s Hospital.
“We all went there to visit a bunch of the kids. We all took photos with them and handed out tons of Fins. It was pretty neat to see the smiles on all their faces. I definitely think that we made their day,” said Stukel.
Once camp ended, it wasn’t long until he was back in his familiar bed, recuperating from the challenging week. Back in Surrey and the gym Monday to Friday, he will slowly work his way back onto the ice to get ready for the YoungStars Classic tournament, which goes Sept. 8 to 11 at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.
The 6-foot, 190-pounder will be in tough against the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets top prospects as he looks to solidify his spot at the Canucks main camp towards the end of Sept.
“It would be great to make the Canucks this year, but I know that it’s probably unlikely. I’m still only 20 and being at these camps and workout with the Canucks over the past few years has made me realize how much hard work I have to put in the weight room and on the ice in order to get to the next level.
But that isn’t for Stukel to worry about. He is focused on training and preparing himself to play wherever he ends up, hopefully, helping him inch closer to living out his dream.
“I don’t think I could put into words how much it would mean to me to have a chance at putting the Canucks jersey on everyday. It’s something that I’ve dreamt about my whole life, and now that it’s here, I want it more than ever before.”