By RYAN MCCRACKEN on October 22, 2020.
It’s been a less-than-stellar year for most, but Medicine Hat Tigers prospect Josh Van Mulligen will always have fond memories of 2020.
The 15-year-old defenceman put in a milestone season with the South East Athletic Club Tigers U15 AAA program – albeit one cut short by a global pandemic – then went on to be drafted in the second round by his hometown Tabbies. Next up, accepting his hardware as the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League’s top defenceman for 2019-20.
“It was a tough year, but just getting drafted and signing a WHL contract, and winning D-man of the year, it just shows all the work I’ve put in,” said Van Mulligen, now competing with South Alberta Hockey Academy’s U18 prep program. “It’s an honour. It’s a really competitive league and to win that award, not many players from SEAC have won awards so it’s even more special to do so.”
The plan is for Van Mulligen to be presented with the top defenceman award at one of SEAC’s upcoming games. The young blueliner says he’s looking forward to the prospect of sharing the moment with his former teammates who are still on the squad, all of whom helped him on his path to the milestone.
“It means a lot. Those guys helped me get this award, they all put in the work,” he said. “It’s something where a couple of those guys could be getting awards, too, so it’s something for them to be looking forward to, as well.”
Van Mulligen is in good company as the AMBHL’s top defenceman. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound right-handed shot is the first Hatter to win the award since Ryan Aasman earned it in 2007 with the Medicine Hat Hockey Hounds. Aasman now serves as head coach of the Calgary Northstars’ U18 AAA program.
Notable Tigers to win the award include David Quenneville (2012, Edmonton SSAC Lions), Dylan Plouffe (2014, Sherwood Park Flyers) and Jay Bouwmeester (1998, Edmonton SSAC).
Over the course of 31 games last season, Van Mulligen racked up 13 goals and 14 assists from the back end while earning the nod for top defenceman at both the Hockey Hounds Bantam AAA Tournament and the AMBHL awards.
“Josh is a really, really good kid. He’s got his head on his shoulders, he knows what he needs to do to be successful. A guy that can find his identity at that age, it’s really impressive,” said SAHA male U18 prep head coach Brayden Desjardins, who also coached Van Mulligen at SEAC last year. “I’m not surprised that he got that (AMBHL) award, but it’s really good that he got the recognition that he deserves.”
Van Mulligen is part of a new wave of highly-touted Hat prospects in the game of hockey – a surge that follows a lengthy drought without any local players hearing their name called in the WHL’s bantam draft. Fellow SAHA forward Caleb Wyrostok was drafted to the Swift Current Broncos last year, then Van Mulligen and Cole Unger went to their hometown Tigers, while his SEAC teammate Dawson Seitz went 20th overall to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
“They’ve had so many losing teams and I just really wanted to be part of the solution – make Medicine Hat a team people don’t want to play against,” said Van Mulligen, whose Tigers advanced to the AMBHL division semifinals before COVID-19 closed the door on the season. “We really worked hard. Throughout the season we had a lot of ups and downs, but overall it was a good season. I definitely had a lot of fun during it and I just want to continue working hard.”
Now with SAHA, Van Mulligen is alongside seven other Medicine Hat Tigers draft picks. The situation allows them all to bond over a potential shared future in the WHL while generating chemistry in the CSSHL.
“It’s a really fun experience. It’s really cool how all those guys came here (to SAHA) and we’re all getting along really well. We’re all really excited for our future with the Tigers,” said Van Mulligen. “Everybody just works hard. They all look to help each other because we know we’re going to be playing at the next level together, so we’re just giving tips and pushing each other to make each other better.”
Desjardins says Van Mulligen wears that drive on his sleeve – bringing a consistent work ethic to the rink every day and making it clear that his future is on the ice.
“You can see that this is what he wants for his life, this is his goal,” said Desjardins. “He wants to be a professional hockey player and he’s doing whatever it takes right now to reach that goal, so I’m really, really happy with him.”
SAHA returns to competition Nov. 6-8 for a three-game set against the Northern Alberta Xtreme.