Former WHL player Lockner finds new home in USPHL with Northern Colorado
Having an opportunity to play for your hometown team is something that young players yearn for.
Junior hockey organizations develop players and help prepare them for the next level.
“There’s a good program in my backyard. I left home at 15, it’s good to be back,” said Lockner, a Windsor native. “I grew up and went to a couple games and my brother played locally at CU (University of Colorado). I’ve been around this lifestyle and it’s cool to experience it again.”
The Eagles organization has a distinct local feel this season, starting with eight players on the roster that grew up within an hour of the Greeley Ice Haus, where the team plays in Greeley. Lockner’s addition makes it nine, and the 20-year old brings an impressive resume into the fold.
Lockner is a five-year Western Hockey League (WHL) veteran, with over 250 games between Regina and Medicine Hat.
Last month, the WHL, one of three major junior leagues in Canada, announced that their players would be granted releases until the beginning of the season, due to the uncertainty about the start date and COVID-19 restrictions.
“My coach Willie [Desjardins] called me and said the league was going to release their players and he told me to get back into game shape, get out there and start having fun,” Lockner said. The center has been skating with the Eagles for the past eight weeks and after the conversation with Willie, he got the “good-to-go” to join the team.
For Bryan, it’s a chance to sharpen his skills going into his final year of junior hockey.
“I have to be ready going into camp, some guys aren’t finding teams, and hopefully these games will help push for a spot because I’m playing against some really good guys,” said Lockner.
In the WHL, each team can only carry three 20-year old players on their roster. Currently, Lockner’s team, the Medicine Hat Tigers, has six listed on the roster. For Eagles coach Steve Haddon, it represents an opportunity to develop both the player and the league.
“My biggest goal is to put him in situations to succeed offensively. That way, if he gets a season, he can go into camp guns-a-blazing on both sides of the puck,” said Haddon. “It’s great for both leagues that the ‘W’ has released their players and to help them [players] get into shape.”
Lockner has many options after this season, including college in either the United States or Canada. In the past five years, the Eagles organization has graduated over fifty players to college opportunities, both at the NCAA level in the U.S., and the ACAC and BICHL in Canada.
“As an organization, we have always moved kids to both. Each kid has the right path for themselves,” said Haddon. “Our organization is here as a resource to help give kids options and keep doors open. We want to help keep kids’ careers going by giving them the ideas and the information.”
For both sides, there’s a lot to learn and teach during the season.
“[Lockner] can really teach our guys how to be a professional. He’s been at that level, and a coach can’t teach that necessarily,” said Haddon, referring to the intangibles that Lockner brings to the team.
“I want to be here for myself and also for the other guys,” Lockner added. “I want to make them better players, hang out with them, give them better routines, help them out along the way.”
When it comes down to it, both sides are incredibly excited to have found each other for the next two months. Coach Haddon talked about the team’s new addition and their goals.
“The short and long is that we want to work through Christmas and get Bryan where he wants to go,” Haddon remarked. “He’s a great kid, he’s incredibly respectful, coachable, and he fits it with our team, just another one of the guys.”
Lockner scored two goals in his Eagles’ debut against Pueblo and can’t wait to continue his time with Northern Colorado.
“They treat their players incredibly well, they have a committed coaching staff, and that’s good to see especially with juniors, where you have young guys playing a long way from home” said Lockner, appreciating the team and their coaching staff.
As he develops local, national, and international players, Haddon emphasizes that the team’s philosophy is all about the players, ”find[ing] a home, find[ing] a good organization; I want kids who want to be here. It’s a partnership.”
For Bryan Lockner and the Eagles, this partnership looks ready to come to fruition.
— Brendan Price/Northern Colorado Eagles
(Dec. 1, 2020)