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Learning the ropes

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Growing up idolizing the Swan Valley Stampeders is something most Swan River Valley kids enrolled in minor hockey do.
While only a select few will ever actually grow up to play for their hometown junior team, some do and this year’s edition has four such locals living out their dream.
Two of those players - Jackson Betcher and Carter Cockburn - have been enjoying their first full season as members of the Stamps.
For Betcher, it has been a year of growth and learning.
“My first year has definitely been one I’ll remember forever,” said the recently turned 18-year-old defenceman. “Getting to play in my home town for the team that I grew up watching and always dreamt of playing for has been exceptional.”
What has made it even more special for Betcher is how good the Stamps have fared this season.
“It’s pretty much the first winning team I’ve been on in my career,” he said. “To be a part of this team in my first year of junior is something I am very grateful for.”
Cockburn is the Stampeders’ other local rookie and echos Betcher’s thoughts on playing for his hometown team.
“My first year has been a lot of fun,” the 17-year-old forward said. “I get to play a high level of hockey and, even better, get to stay at home to do it.
“We’ve had a great season. Playing at home has also helped me a lot. From getting to play in-front of friends, family and the community I’ve grown up in has been awesome.”
Playing for the Stampeders is not the end goal for either player as both want to improve their skill set to get to the next level and both believe they’ve accomplished some of that in their first season.
“I feel I’ve progressed a lot from the start of the season,” said Betcher. “I’ve focused on simplifying my game, which helped me adjust very well. My teammates and coaches made that transition very smooth.”
Cockburn is also quick to credit his coaches and veteran teammates for his progress.
“My coaches have helped me a tremendous amount this year, helping me develop and learn how to play a 200 foot game,” said Cockburn, who scored six goals to go along with six assists in his first regular season. “They’re always teaching me new things and it has made the jump to junior easier.”
“One player I’ve looked up to has to be Josh Tripp. He’s had great success at this level and seeing what he does and the work ethic he brings every day has shown me what it takes to be the best.”
To Head Coach and General Manager Barry Wolff, both players bring different skill sets to the table.
“Jackson’s a smooth skating player with a high hockey IQ,” he said. “He makes a good first pass and has a good shot that regularly gets to the net. I like him because he can see plays develop before most, which allows him to dictate the play at times. He’s going to be a very good all around offensive defenceman in this league.”
“As for Carter, he’s going to be a great power forward. He’s a big body, who skates well, has a solid work ethic and never give up attitude. He also does a great job of hunting down loose pucks, turning them into great plays and has a knack for scoring goals. He’s also not afraid to go to the dirty areas and win those battles.”
Preparation is very important at any level but junior hockey, for the most part, brings the cream to the top, so-to-speak; and both players feel they’re on the right track there.
“I’ve learned that coming prepared to work everyday – whether it’s practice or games – is very important to be successful,” said Betcher who lists Kyle Dyck, Myles Stevens, Shelby Gray and fellow hometown player Jayson Argue as his favourite all-time Stampeders.
“You have to be disciplined on and off the ice and make sacrifices if you want to play at this level. There is little room for error.”
“I think throughout the year, being my first year of junior, I’ve been developing at a good pace,” said Cockburn. “Getting to watch the top players on our team, who are some of the top in the league, I learn a lot from them.”
Natural skills aside, both players believe the help they’ve received from Wolff and his staff has been very beneficial towards their development.
And with all that, they’ve learned both playing with and watching their veteran teammates, both feel it drives them to take on bigger roles next season.
“I want to bring a sense of leadership to next year’s team,” said Betcher.
“I want to be a guy the coaches can count on and look to when needed. My confidence will go up in my game as it will be my second season. I’ll be more familiar with the league and hopefully that will translate to both individual and team success.”
Cockburn also knows what areas he hopes to take big strides in.
“I think a big thing is work ethic,” said Cockburn, who lists Riley Hiebert as his favourite Stampeder of all-time. “You have to come prepared to work everyday at practice and I want to carry that work ethic into next season. The top guys are always going and I want to be at that level in my future.”
Crediting players like Merek Pipes, Troy Quinn and captain Jaden Townsend with helping him get comfortable playing junior hockey, Betcher also speaks highly of Wolff and his team.
“The coaching staff is first class.” he said. “They have all helped me throughout the season. Barry has been very good to me and is very supportive, in hockey and in my school work. He’s an unbelievable coach and person. He knows his stuff and knows how to get the best out of his players.”
Betcher also credits assistant coach Ryan Bettesworth as a big influence handling the defenceman this season.
“Ryan has definitely been a huge impact on me this season,” he said. “He’s a guy I really respect because he has been very vocal with me. We have a special bond and I’ve looked to him a lot this season. He’s been awesome. He wants the best for me and he shows that.”
Cockburn, in his final words, summed up his most favourite part of wearing the Stampeder crest on his jersey this season.
“Staying in my home town has made the jump to junior easier with the support of my family being with me all the time,” concluded Cockburn.

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Brian Gilroy
REPORTER
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