They may be rookies in the B.C. Hockey League, but Dante Fabbro and Tyson Jost are seasoned veterans when it comes to international competition.
Fresh off an appearance at the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Sarnia-Lambton, Ont., in early November, Fabbro and Jost made for the cut for Canada West at the 2014 World Junior A Challenge in Kindersley, Sask., becoming the first 16-year-olds to represent Western Canada since current St. Louis Blues standout Jaden Schwartz in 2008.
Between the two events, including exhibition games, they will have played 11 games in the red and white of Team Canada since Halloween, compared to 10 for their club team, the BCHL’s Penticton Vees, in that same span.
While they were on different teams for the U17 tournament – Jost had a goal and two assists for Canada White, and Fabbro scored twice and added two helpers for Canada Red – they’re enjoying the opportunity to play for their country together.
“We room together in Penticton so it’s nice to be on the same team, to see him on the bench and have a few laughs with him,” Jost says. “It’s fun to share this experience with him. We’re just always here for each other and we have each other’s backs.”
Despite some friendly ribbing – “He still holds [White’s win over Red in the fifth-place game at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge] over me,” Fabbro says – the defenceman also recognizes the perks of growing up through the Hockey Canada ranks together.
“I was at supper with Tyson when we got the call for U17s so we’ve shared a lot of this experience together,” he says. “Now to have a guy – one of your best buddies – beside you going through the same thing has helped a tremendous amount.”
Between the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, World Junior A Challenge and BCHL action with the Vees, it has been a whirlwind few months, with games in three provinces, plus Canada West selection camp.
But both Fabbro and Jost seem to have taken the demands in stride, thanks, at least in part, to lessons they’ve learned from their time with the national program.
“I have to take it day-by-day,” Fabbro says when asked about the challenges of balancing multiple teams and programs in a short period of time. “If I look too far ahead I get lost in the moment, and I find it tough to play well when that happens. [Hockey Canada] teaches us little tricks to use in our mental performance, so I’ve tried to implement their ideas into my game, and I feel has helped a tremendous amount.”
Jost knows his time with Hockey Canada revamped under-17 program has helped him prepare to compete at the World Junior A Challenge, where the hockey is faster and the opponents and older and larger.
“At U17s I got used to the elite level and the national level of competition and I can implement that experience here. You get used to the warm-ups, cool downs, and what Hockey Canada expects in your off-ice behaviour.”
It would also seem that the elite-level experience and training with Hockey Canada has carried over into successful early-season performances for both with the Vees.
Jost sits fifth in Penticton scoring, averaging more than a point per game (25 points in 24 games), while Fabbro has the second-most points among Vees defencemen, behind only Canada West teammate Gabe Bast.
The play of its young standouts is a big reason why Penticton finds itself ranked No. 3 in the Canadian Junior Hockey League, and among the favourites to win a second RBC Cup in the last four years.
“Usually when you have 16-year-olds they’re up-and-coming players, but with Dante and Tyson they have been big parts of our hockey club right from the start,” says Fred Harbinson, head coach and general manager of the Vees.
“When those guys are gone there’s a big hole to fill, but it’s such a valuable experience for our players to play on that big stage with a lot on the line. We saw when [Jost and Fabbro] came back from U17s another level of drive in them, in wanting to succeed and wanting to help our team, and we expect the same from them when they come back from [Kindersley].”
And for Fabbro, it doesn’t end with Kindersley.
“We bring our experiences back [to the Vees] to a certain extent,” he says. “We’ve got leaders on our team, but I think we bring a different presence to the rink, and most importantly I think our preparation shows on the ice.”
Playing for Team Canada may be becoming old hat, but the moment is not lost on the young Vees.
“It’s a dream come true,” Jost says. “I’ve been dreaming about this my whole life, since I was a little kid playing hockey in my basement. I thought it was unreal doing it at U17s and I get to do it again; it’s a great honour to represent my country in the best game on earth.”