The men's hockeysaurs received an early Christmas present at the end of the first half of the season, with news of the addition of Arizona Sundog Torrie Wheat to the squad in the upcoming year. Along with his leadership and professional experience, Wheat joined the University of Calgary men's hockey team with an impressive offensive history, an area the Dinos have been looking to improve over the last few games.
The 21-year old right-wing from Nanaimo, British Columbia, grew up surrounded by the captivating sport of hockey. His father, an intense Wayne Gretzky fan, seemed to be constantly watching reels of the Great One, whether current or vintage. Both Wheat's parents have supported his love of hockey throughout the years, though letting him leave home to pursue a professional career was a tough experience on the entire family. But since a young age, Wheat knew hockey was in his future.
"My parents tell me that I've been holding a hockey stick since I was three years old," laughed Wheat. "I've always wanted to play hockey, since as long as I can remember, and I hope to keep playing for a long time."
At 16, Wheat sought to take his game to a new level, and began his professional hockey career in the Western Hockey League with the Swift Current Broncos in 2001. Though Wheat took his first steps with a hockey stick clutched in his tiny fists, he found himself struggling to hit his stride with the Broncos.
"I had a pretty rough time while I was [in Swift Current]," explained Wheat. "I was having some troubles adjusting to the [league's] style of play and it wasn't too much fun."
The two years in Swift Current were hard for Wheat, and his offensive output amounted to only 14 goals and 33 points in his two seasons with the Broncos. His stint with the Broncos came to an end with a trade to the upstart Everett Silvertips. While many players would have left disheartened after such an experience, Wheat took his trade to the Silvertips as a chance to improve his play and demonstrate what he was capable of.
More importantly, Wheat was able to once again love the game he had grown up to be so passionate about with his new team, especially with the help of his new coach, Kevin Constantine. Constantine, a former NHL coach with San Jose, Pittsburgh and New Jersey, helped Wheat use his skills to the best of his ability, and bring out the talent that won him invitations to the Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils' training camps in September 2006.
"[Constantine] brought the fun back in hockey for me," said Wheat. "His years as a coach in the NHL were really helpful for me to improve my skills and become a better all-around player."
With the Silvertips, Wheat became a true offensive threat, with a scorching 49 goals and 126 points during his three years in Everett. His 10 points in the 2003/04 post-season helped lead the Silvertips to the WHL's Western Conference final, where they lost to the eventual league champions, the Vancouver Giants. An ex-captain, Wheat is currently the all-time leader in points with the Silvertips, an accomplishment that does not go unnoticed with his new coach, Scott Atkinson.
"He has some awesome capabilities, not only at the offensive end, but defensively as well," explained Atkinson. "He sees the ice extremely well, and he is also a great play-maker."
After a successful five-year career in the WHL, Wheat moved on to the Central Hockey League during its 2006 inaugural season. He joined the Arizona Sundogs in Prescott Valley, Arizona, and played only 17 games. But in his short appearance with the Sundogs, Wheat posted an impressive 12 goals and four assists, which serve as proof that his skills continue to improve each time his skates touch the ice.
Wheat chose to leave the CHL in pursuit of a post-secondary education at the University of Calgary, and continues to sharpen his skills on the ice with a talented team of hockeysaurs. For the last five-and-a-half years, hockey had been Wheat's main focus. Now, he knew that he not only would have to further adjust to the new league, but also learn how to balance a full-course load alongside his hockey career.
"It's been a pretty big adjustment and I can't sleep in all the time anymore," laughed Wheat. "Now I have to balance school and I have all this homework and classes, but the guys on the team have been really helping me out."
As any student can attest to, enrolling in a new school, especially in the middle of the year, can be daunting. Joining a team with a solid core can cause even more anxiety, but that hasn't been the case with Wheat and the Dinos. The team has welcomed Wheat into their close-knit group, helping him adjust and feel at home in a new city, and at a new school.
"Joining a new team in the middle of the season, it's pretty tough but it's also the best part," explained Wheat. "You worry if you are going to fit in, but I was welcomed with open arms by the guys on the team and the coaching staff."
The team and Atkinson have high expectations from Wheat, almost as high as those Wheat has of himself. Though he has
had amazing success in the past, Wheat knows, as any athlete does, that there are always areas that can be improved and adjusted. Specifically, to match up with other players in the league, Wheat looks to get bigger and stronger, so he can adjust to the level of play in Canada West, and carry on into continued professional play.
"There's never just one thing that can be improved, but there's always a lot of little things," he said. "I just want to do whatever I can to help out, whether scoring or whatever they need me to do."
Wheat doesn't plan to stop with hockey at the university level. Eventually, he plans to play overseas in the competitive, fast-paced European league, and hopes his time with the Dinos can prepare him for the next stage in his career.
Make sure to get Wheat's autograph soon, because whether he's overseas in the European league, or right at home in North American professional hockey, the world of sports may be talking about him for a long time to come.