By Tyler King
WHL veteran Trent Lofthouse didn’t need too much time to acclimatize himself to the Alberta Junior Hockey League before becoming a significant offensive threat.
Joining the Fort McMurray Oil Barons just before a road trip to Grande Prairie, the 6’3” forward notched two assists in his first two games despite not having had a single full practice with his new team.
A week later, Lofthouse stole the spotlight in his home debut, lifting more than 1,600 MOB fans to their feet multiple times with a staggering four-goal performance in a 6-3 win over the Olds Grizzlys.
“I honestly thought I was just going to come in here, work as hard as I could, and hopefully things would start popping for me,” he said after the game, “but I never thought I’d be doing as well as I am.”
“I don’t know what came over me tonight. The puck was following me around tonight; it was a great thing.”
It’s been a great thing as well for head coach Curtis Hunt, whose diversified hockey connections helped him land the British Columbian despite his having a plethora of alternate routes.
“We do expect him to provide that offensive touch,” said Hunt of his expectations for the veteran forward. “He’s a big body; I know he had some options after he left Portland’s camp, and he chose Fort Mac; I think it was a great opportunity.”
“As you can see, he has a quick release; he can put that puck pretty well anywhere in a big hurry, and being that big body, he’s got big hands, and I think he can bring the crowd out of their seats.”
He was quick to do exactly that on Saturday night, but it was an event that almost wasn’t to be, if not for a well-timed phone call. After all, as a four-year WHLer, from Surrey, B.C., who had played in Everett, Washington, as well as Victoria and Vancouver, northern Alberta wasn’t likely top of mind when it came time to make a vital career decision.
“My rights were with the Langley Rivermen in the BCHL, and they really wanted me to go there,” Lofthouse recalled. “Curtis gave my Dad a call, because he couldn’t get a hold of me, so I called him back, and he just seemed really interested in me.
“When you have a coach that’s that interested in you, it makes you feel good, and it makes you feel like this might be the right move. I wanted to be away from home as it is, and when I found out they were hosting the Western Canada Cup, I thought that was my best opportunity.”
Lofthouse credits his quick surge to a productive week after moving into his new hockey home after the road trip to Grande Prairie.
“To be honest, it was just getting to know the team better,” he explained. “When I first got there, I was kind of nervous, I was shy, I wasn’t close with anybody on the team, so I was just going out there and playing hockey.”
“But when you start to get close with your teammates and bond together, you start to want to play for them rather than yourself. I’ve started to get really close with the guys on this team, and the coaches.”
Early games on a forward line with veteran Adam Durkee and speedy sophomore Mitch Vanderlaan certainly helped highlight Lofthouse’s abilities as well.
“Vandy’s a great player; he’s fast, he’s got tons of skill. Durkee’s a great playmaker, has a great shot,” said Lofthouse of his compatriots. “I couldn’t ask for better linemates. They make my job that much easier when I’m playing with forwards like that.”
“The three of them make the group,” said Hunt of the line. “When that group decided to cycle the puck, they had some great possession time, and it’s just a matter of translating that time into scoring chances.”
Finally, there was the impact of Fort McMurray fans to consider. As a longtime major junior player, Lofthouse has played in rinks with capacities in the five figures. But the Casman Centre, capacity just over 1,900, managed to make a bold impression.”
“Holy,” was Lofthouse’s first word when asked for his reaction to his first Fort McMurray home crowd. “The Everett Silvertips, when I played with them, probably had the best barn in the WHL, and we had some pretty crazy games, but I can honestly say this is pretty neck-and-neck with that.”
“I’ve never played in a building with this great of fans, and how loud it was tonight; it just made me that much more confident. It was surreal; I loved it.”
His WHL veteran coach helped to put that comparison into perspective.
“I’ll tell you, if Trent Lofthouse said that, comparing us to Everett – that and Tri-City might be the two loudest buildings in the WHL, so that’s a tip of the hat right there to the fans,” said Curtis Hunt.
It’s Fort McMurray fans who ended up throwing some hats on the ice the first time they got to see Lofthouse in action; and there may be far more hat-tipping to both the coach who brought him in, and the player himself, if he continues to be such a spectacular offensive catalyst.
Follow me on Twitter @tyler_king