South Shore Breaker

Hopkins rockin’ the BCHL

Lunenburg defenceman listed as NHL draft prospect


Ryan Hopkins isn’t sure how he didn’t become a curler as a child. “That’s a good question,” said the NHL draft prospect from Lunenburg and the son of decorated Nova Scotia curlers Jeff and Heather Hopkins.

“I don’t know. Both my parents — well, at least my dad — I know he wanted me to try it. They had me at the curling rink a couple of times, but I always wanted to play hockey. They let me play and, ever since then, I’ve loved it and I haven’t stopped.”

There’s seemingly no stopping Hopkins, a 17-year-old defenceman in his rookie season with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL. While the University of Maine commit is honoured to appear in the Central Scouting rankings for this summer’s NHL draft, he also recognizes the athletic achievemen­ts of his parents as they reached national curling prominence.

“They were both really good curlers,” he said of the twotime Canadian mixed champions. “I mean, my dad went to the Brier, my mom to the Scotties and the Olympic trials, so that’s a pretty cool thing to be able to say about your parents.

“I don’t know much about (curling), but I know they still like to watch it every now and then. They kind of predict the shots the players are going to make.”

Hopkins, who turns 18 in April, is the youngest of three children. Both of his sisters are university students. He grew up as a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, just like his father, so hockey talk was still prominent in the curling household.

From the South Shore minor hockey ranks to prep school at Stanstead College in Quebec and now junior A in British Columbia, Hopkins has blazed his own sporting trail, with boundless encouragem­ent from his parents.

“I think that’s what they wanted for me the most, was just do what I want to do and they were going to support me no matter what,” he said. “It’s nice for me that I got to create my own path and have that opportunit­y to do what I would like to do.”

He’s playing on a powerful Penticton team that includes the sons of former NHL standouts Joe Nieuwendyk, Scott Niedermaye­r and Mike Richter, along with a nephew of EX-NHL forward Jason Arnott and a brother of Vancouver Canucks defenceman Tucker Poolman.

In its mid-season report released in January, Central Scouting ranked Hopkins

158th overall among North American skaters eligible for the NHL draft this July in Montreal. That projection makes him a fifth-round candidate, not counting goaltender­s and internatio­nal players.

“It’s always been a dream for me,” Hopkins said of potentiall­y getting drafted. “But it’s something I try not to focus on too much. It’s a cool thing to be able to say that you’re ranked, but I think it’s more important to follow that up and show that you can play at that level eventually. Just always try to get better as well.

“I’ve talked to a few (NHL) teams. It’s been a pretty cool experience. I’m hoping to have some more (interviews) in the future, but I guess I’ll have to wait and see.”

As a fan, his favourite NHL teams have been the Habs and the Pittsburgh Penguins. As a defenceman, the almost sixfoot-two, 170-pound Hopkins admires Cale Makar of the

Colorado Avalanche and Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I really like to watch Cale Makar,” he said. “He’s a pretty special player. Offensivel­y gifted and he’s just fun to watch. But I like to watch Victor Hedman, too, because he’s got a really good two-way game and he does a lot of the really simple things super well.”

On his way to NHL fame, Makar took the same kind of route that Hopkins has chosen in playing junior A and eventually NCAA Division 1 hockey.

Hopkins is among five Penticton players committed to Maine, along with Grayson Arnott, Thomas Pichette and New Brunswick brothers Josh and Bradly Nadeau.

The Nadeaus — Josh, 18, and Bradly, 16 — are dynamic talents in just their first year with Penticton. They’ve connected on and off the ice with the like-minded Hopkins, a former prep-school captain respected for his dedication to the game.

“We’re just always in the gym together, running laps after practices, not partying, just taking everything seriously to get to the next level,” said the fivefoot-seven Josh Nadeau, now one of the top scorers in the BCHL after being named Maritime Hockey League rookie of the year last season with the Edmundston Blizzard.

“Ryan is good offensivel­y and defensivel­y. Good size and he’s fast. He’s been good for our team.” After missing the early part of the season because of broken ribs, Hopkins had scored six goals and 27 points after 43 games with front-running Penticton, which hit the 40-win mark March 9.

“I have a good two-way ability,” he said. “My defensive game is a big part of my whole style of play. But I think I can produce offensivel­y as well. I can run a power play.”

Hopkins believes his progress in hockey is also attributab­le to his attitude and actions even beyond the rink.

“Just who I am off the ice, I think that’s part of it,” he said. “I take the game really seriously. I still like to have fun with it, (but) my commitment and hard work around the rink is really important. Also, my leadership skills. I’m more of a quiet leader who just leads by example.”

That example has resonated with the Nadeau brothers, who can bank on seeing more of Hopkins in Penticton and at Maine.

“They’re both super skilled players and it’s going to be real fun to play with them for the next couple of years,” said Hopkins, a Grade 12 student planning to make the jump to the NCAA in September 2023.

“It’s fun to watch them both play. Just some of the things they can do on the ice is pretty incredible. They’re both real great people as well. Being from the Maritimes, it’s kind of cool to have that connection.”

 ?? CONTRIBUTE­D ?? Penticton Vees defenceman Ryan Hopkins of Lunenburg is in his first BCHL season. The 17-year-old NHL draft candidate is committed to the University of Maine.
CONTRIBUTE­D Penticton Vees defenceman Ryan Hopkins of Lunenburg is in his first BCHL season. The 17-year-old NHL draft candidate is committed to the University of Maine.

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