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Coming full circle


As long-time Swan Valley Stampeder correspondent Derek Holtom wrote in his 10-year reflection book on the team entitled Beyond the Jersey, “It was the mid-1990s and the Valley was on a bit of a roll. Swan River had successfully hosted the Manitoba Winter Games and the Swan Valley Axemen entertained the masses at the Centennial Arena during the winter months. Then someone had an idea – why not bring junior A hockey to the Valley?”
Around this same time – Feb. 24, 1999 to be exact – John Townsend was in the Dauphin hospital, eagerly awaiting the birth of his son Jaden with wife Noreen Nykyforak.
Having been asked to do some scouting for the newly formed organization, Townsend would soon also spend a few years behind the bench as an assistant coach.
“I was working with the Calgary Hitmen at that time but I said yes and Guy Vestby and I ended up travelling a lot of miles together looking for players,” said Townsend.
“Those early years... there was such passion. The players enjoyed playing, there was such a huge fan base and it was very exciting. Those players played hockey because they loved playing hockey.”
Back at home in Roblin, Jaden grew from a baby to a toddler and, when not on the road with coaching and scouting duties, John would start fostering a love for the ice and the game in his young son.
“Jaden started skating at one year old,” said Townsend. “I flooded a rink in the back of grandma and grandpa Nykyforak ’s back yard.
“Not long after, he and his buddy Josh Brook started playing together in the local hockey program. They didn’t know what was about to happen for them – they just enjoyed the game.”
From early on, it was clear that Jaden had a love for the sport.
“It was something I really wanted from a young age,” he said “I was always taken to my older cousin’s hockey games to watch.
“When I started playing myself, one of my most clear memories was playing on the Pee Wee team my dad coached. We had won provincials and, I think, we’d only lost one game all year. That was a big point in my early hockey career.”
Growing up in a town that did not have an MJHL team themselves, Jaden was more exposed to junior level hockey at the WHL level – especially because his dad was still scouting for the Hitmen well into his early childhood. But, he was still aware of the Stampeders.
“I was always told about Swan, since my dad coached there,” he said, adding that as he grew older he knew that the MJHL was the step he needed to take to further his hockey career.”
So, when the 2014 Bantam Draft came around and Jaden’s name was called by the Dauphin Kings he was ecstatic.
“I got drafted there and I played one exhibition game – it was against Swan – and then I got traded to the Stampeders my 17-year-old-year, right before camp,” said Jaden Townsend. “I just feel like I didn’t get the opportunity I deserved in Dauphin and then Swan gave me that opportunity.
“I was excited (about the trade) it was big for me at that time. I felt like I was ready for that next step to get into junior.”
“It was exciting,” added John Townsend. “No discredit to the Kings, they have a great organization, but it’s nice that he got to play with Swan River.
“They are my roots and I love the passion that the community has for their players.”
Playing alongside guys like Keaton Jameson, Trevar Mann and Connor Navrot, the 5’9” 170 lb. forward put up respectable numbers for a rookie, scoring five goals and adding six assists for a total of 11 points in 48 games played.
“When I first came to the team I lived with Jordan Valentino at the Boychuk’s,” said Jaden Townsend. “Carter McMurdo and then Cody Ellingson were the captains and they, along with the leadership guys like (Tanner) Koroscil, really helped me feel like part of the team.
“They made sure everyone was doing their jobs and that everyone was in line and working hard every day and there to play every day.”
During his three seasons with the team Jaden has had plenty of people he’s looked up to – both players and coaches.
“Keaton Jameson really took me under his wing last year and showed me the ropes,” he said. “He roomed with me on road trips and it was really good to talk to him and see what he was feeling and dealing with being captain.
“And then, for coaches, Darren Webster has coached me since Bantam. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s always helped me.
It was actually Webster that took me out for lunch one day early this season and asked me what I thought about being captain and if I thought I could do the job.
“As captain you’re kind of like the extension of the coaching staff, so you’re dealing with almost everything. You have to call guys out when it’s needed. You have to make sure everyone’s in the know of what’s going on and what the plan is. I was shocked and just very honoured because it’s a big task.”
One of the first things Jaden did after that conversation was call his dad, who has always been his greatest hockey influence.
“He was very humbled,” John Townsend said. “He called when he got named and I asked him how it had went at his meeting. He said it was good and they made him captain.
“I told him it was good that he was assistant captain but he said no, I’m THE captain. We had some chuckles over that and then I told him to put his work boots on.”
After having Jaden as captain for the full season Webster knows that they chose well.
“Jaden was chosen because he earned the respect and trust from his teammates and coaching staff,” said Webster. “Jaden’s hockey abilities, his professionalism, his passion for the game and his will to win set an example for every player who would put on the Swan Valley Stampeder uniform this season.
“He truly leads by example on and off the ice. As a leader you have to be approachable to teammates but also be critical when needed and because of the respect he has from everyone in the dressing room, his message has meaning.”
Jaden added that he felt he was a good fit because he’s seen it all when it comes to playing with the team.
“I started out on the fourth line and have had to basically earn my stripes on the team,” he said. “I’ve played power play, penalty kill, first line minutes and fourth line minutes... so it kind of helps that I know what everyone’s going through on the team and what they are feeling.”
Unfortunately, Jaden’s season ended a little earlier than planned when a mid-ice collision with an opposing Dauphin Kings’ player early in Game 3 of the first playoff round would find him with a broken leg.
But, even though he’s not on the ice with the team he has been attending every subsequent playoff game possible and cheering his team in the dressing room and from the stands.
“It’s just been an honour (to lead the team) and so much pride comes with it,” he said. “The team, means so much to the town – I see that and it helps me.
“I chose to lead by example. I tried to be as vocal as I could and keep everyone positive, keep everyone motivated and go out every shift and give it my best, like I wanted them to.
My assistant captains really helped,” he continued. “They’re basically the second voice. It’s just a team effort and the leadership group comes together.”
Quintin Sudom and Dane Hirst served beside Jaden for the majority of the season with players like Brian Harris, Josh Tripp and Bradly Goethals getting acknowledgment for their leadership efforts by getting letters through the playoffs.
“They have all brought different things to the team,” said Jaden Townsend. “Sudom is very serious – he’s a very lead by example kind of guy. He doesn’t say a whole lot. And then Hirst is very vocal and he’s always joking around and keeping the mood light.
“Even before Harris became assistant he played a big part. He plays a similar role that I do while Tripp has been very good with the younger guys and keeping them part of the team.
“Then, Goethals coming has added another vocal, lead by example presence but he also brings a lot of experience.”
Going into the season Jaden wouldn’t have believed you if you told him the team would place second in the regular season standings and would be battling the Steinbach Pistons in the second round of playoffs.
“Going into the year we had maybe six of the guys that we have now,” he said. “We knew we could have a good team but once those guys like Tripp and Matt Osadick started coming back and we built up the team we started to realize that we’re going to have a chance to win it all.”
Just how far the team will go still remains to be seen with Games 3 and 4 set to go in Steinbach Wednesday and Thursday and Game 5 scheduled back at the Centennial Arena on Saturday.
“It’s been nice playing so close to home,” said Jaden Townsend. “It’s easy for my parents and my family to come to games and I can go home more often.
“You don’t get homesick as much as some guys who have a long ways to go.”
As the Swan Valley Stampeders celebrate their 20th season the Townsend family’s involvement with the team has come full circle.
“It’s kind of cool that it’s lead back to me coming here and captaining the team that my dad helped get started,” said Jaden Townsend.
“Swan River has so much passion and so much heart,” added John Townsend. “The fans are so unreal and, back in 1999, knew how cheer on their team.
“Twenty years later, we have a team full of talent again and it’s nice to see the fans coming out once again.”
While Jaden might be out for the remainder of this season he will be working hard to return to the Stampeders for his 20-year-old year, hoping to go on to play university hockey after.
Both the Stampeder organization and fans look forward to his return to Centennial Arena ice this fall.