By Ryan McCracken on August 23, 2014.
The big leagues are calling.
Former Medicine Hat Tigers forward Curtis Valk and former Saskatoon Blades defenceman Darren Dietz have been putting in work at The Arena with the hopes of cracking a National Hockey League roster this season.
Valk will ship out to Penticton, B.C. on Sept. 10 for the Vancouver Canucks prospects tournament, while Dietz will make his way to Montreal on Sept. 11 for Canadiens rookie camp.
While the two local prospects could end up on opposite sides of the puck if and when they reach the NHL, they have teamed up over the summer to ensure both are in peak condition for their respective training camps in September.
“I played with (Dietz) through minor hockey. So it’s fun in the summers to kind of get back together and reunited like that,” said Valk, who took the ice at The Arena on Wednesday with Dietz, former Tiger Stefan Meyer, Chase Martin and David Haaf.
Dietz agreed it has been rewarding and productive to have players of the same calibre to train alongside during the offseason.
“It’s great to have a couple guys that are at the same level, working hard to push each other and help ourselves get better,” said Dietz, adding he enjoys spending his summers in the Hat. “It’s awesome to spend that time at home instead of having to travel around or elsewhere. You spend all year in whatever city you’re playing in, so it’s nice to be able to train at home in the summer and have the ice available here.”
Dietz signed with the Habs in 2013 and spent last season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League, putting up five assists and 49 penalty minutes in 34 games. This year Dietz hopes to prove himself ready for the big show at rookie camp.
“You want to make it hard on them to cut you. That’s the biggest goal, and where you end up is kind of in management’s hands, but you want to go there and make it extremely challenging for them to make a decision on you,” he said. “I got the opportunity to play in some exhibition games in the NHL last year, and just the overall speed of the game is much faster. You have to be able to operate at a higher speed. The game doesn’t change, it just moves a little bit faster.”
Dietz took the ice at The Arena on Wednesday in his Montreal Canadiens gear and a WHL practice jersey, and the 21-year-old defenceman reflected on the first time he put on his big league uniform.
“It was a pretty special moment,” he said. “It was something I didn’t really expect to happen so I was pretty excited.”
Valk, who trained with the Canucks at a prospects camp in July, said he has been working on approaching the game from a more aggressive standpoint with the goal of putting pen to paper with Canucks management.
“It’s just that attack mentality. That’s what they’ve been telling me, I’m a smaller guy and they want me to play aggressive and make an impact that way,” he said. “I just want to sign a contract with the team. That’s the reason I’m going there. I feel like I have a good opportunity, especially with (former Tigers head coach) Willie Desjardins there too, he’s seen me play before. I’ll just go in and play hard and hopefully good things come of it, and I’ll find myself a place to play in their organization. “
Valk parted ways with the Tigers in the offseason, and while the team’s former leading scorer is now looking to the future, he said he won’t forget the past.
“I’ll be watching all the highlights for sure. It’s definitely going to be different not being there with the team, so I’ll keep in contact as much as I can, texting guys and I’ll probably keep in touch with (Joe Frazer) and (Shaun Clouston) too when I can,” said Valk. “I think they’ll have a great team. They’ve got a great group of guys coming back and just the experience we gained from last year, too, going deep in the playoffs, they’re hungry for it, they want that next step.”
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