Perfecting his game in the Prairies
Clarke’s Beach goaltender in first year with prestigious Notre Dame Hounds
Owen Petten had the same reaction to the Prairies as most people when he first arrived in Wilcox, Sask., last September.
It’s flat and it seems like it stretches days.
“Coming from Newfoundland, it just takes you by shock,” said the 15-year-old goaltender.
Growing up in and around Clarke’s Beach, Petten was surrounded by ocean, seabirds and a ragged coastline described by many as beautiful. In Wilcox, there are fields of grain, a train station and a nary a mountain in sight.
“When you get there, you think how can something be this flat,” said Petten. “You see lights in the distance like they’re boats. It’s insane. You take things for granted. You look around here and there are trees and rocks. The biggest thing I miss is the ocean and waking up and seeing the ocean. You’re there and you’re like, ‘where is everything?’”
Petten is in Wilcox for hockey and school, but mostly hockey. He is enrolled at the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, an athletic factory that has produced past-and-present hockey stars like Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier and Wendel Clark. Canadian rugby players Chauncy O’Toole and Meghan Mutrie and former CFLer Taylor Inglis also attended the school.
A member of the Notre Dame Hounds midget AA team, Petten has been living the life of a student-athlete. That means classes by day and practice by night.
“We’re getting lots of hockey,” he said. “We have practice five days a week and then we might have a game. So, we’re on the ice six days a week. I love the hockey.”
To him, it is worth the 9 p.m. cell phone curfew — 10:30 p.m. some nights — and living away from his family back home. He is the son of Lindsay and Colleen Petten.
But, it is not just hockey at Notre Dame. They are required to be students as well. Apart from regular classes, there is mandatory homework sessions to complete in the evening.
“Everything is on computer, so you don’t have to worry about losing a sheet,” said Petten. “Monday to Thursday and then Sunday evening, there is a mandatory hour and 15 minutes where you need to have your dorm rooms open, everyone at a desk and you have to do homework.”
Of course, when an athlete travels to place like Notre Dame it is to get some additional exposure, but it is also to fine-tune their skills.
Since moving to the small Saskatchewan town just 45 minutes south of provincial capital Regina, the young puck stop has watched his game improve.
“The trainers and the coaches are always there if you want to sit down and talk,” he told The Compass. “I’ve gotten in better shape because the gym is always there. You have team workouts and you can go by yourself.”
One man who has helped immensely has been Louis Guay, a goaltending coach with the Atlantic Goaltending Academy who also serves as an assistant coach for the University of Moncton men’s hockey team. He flies to Wilcox once a month and stays for two weeks.
“It is a lot of technical stuff with Louis,” said Petten. “So it is a lot of my movements have improved, my hand-eye (coordination), just your basic stuff that you really need.”
It is tough for anyone to leave home, whether that is a 25-year-old taking a job in another province or a 15-year-old kid moving away for hockey.
It can be lonely abandoning the world you’ve known for most of your life. There have been many a promising hockey careers squandered because of homesickness.
However, by all accounts, Petten will not fall into that category.
“That first week, after my mom left, it wasn’t as bad as I thought,” he said. “But, when you come home the first time and you realize everything you are missing like your own bed, your own shower, you think, ‘ Do I really want to go back?’
“Then you think, ‘Hey, I’m not getting the same opportunity here if I was away.’”
Spending time with teammates and classmates in the dorm also helps.
“You can’t really get lonely because you’re with people 24-7,” said Petten. “There are always people there and you’re with your team so much that you get to know them. “They’re like your family.” Of course, what would any story like this be without mention of the hockey Petten is playing?
When describing the style of game out west, Petten paints a picture of rapid fans, competitive hockey and regular big hits, along with some fisticuffs mixed in.
“It’s like real hockey. It’s great,” said Petten. “Well, when the fans are with you its great, when they’re not with you, it’s not so great.”
Clarke’s Beach goaltender Owen Petten is playing hockey this season with the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame Hounds in Wilcox, Sask.