Following a period of uncertainty, Winnipeg’s Zac Patrick has found himself a new home for the fall months of the 2020-21 hockey season. Late last week the Portage Terriers announced that Patrick – alongside ‘future considerations’ – had been dealt to the Steinbach Pistons in exchange for local Portage la Prairie product Max Neill.
The trade will see Patrick play out the beginning of the upcoming Manitoba Junior Hockey League season in the Automobile City, as he prepares for what he is calling a ‘bounce-back season’ in the Western Hockey League with the Prince Albert Raiders.
“It is extremely exciting getting this opportunity to play for a great organization with a really skilled team,” Patrick told Game On. “I’m very thankful for it and am looking forward to getting things started there as soon as camp starts. For me this opportunity with Steinbach allows me to work with a great team, as well as giving me the chance to work on my game and prove to myself and others that I’m still able to compete at a high level.”
Patrick, who went undrafted in both the 2016 WHL and MJHL bantam drafts, initially did not receive any WHL camp invites, before the Portage Terriers and the then-Kootenay ICE listed the defender to their respective protected lists. After being bounced around by the Winnipeg ICE last season, the 19-year-old defenceman found himself in a place he had never been before.
“For the first time ever, I wasn’t very excited to be going to the rink and competing my hardest to better my game, which wasn’t good for me or for my teammates,” Patrick said of the 2019-20 season. “I had never really had that feeling with hockey at all before. But over my time away from the game I really found out for myself how much love I have for the game of hockey and that I truly did miss that high level of competition and pushing myself to get better each day.”
Now a veteran junior hockey player, the six-foot, 180-pound defenceman – who actually made the transition from forward to defence back in his 14-year-old bantam year – couldn’t be more excited to turn a new leaf as a member of the Steinbach Pistons.
“I am extremely excited to get this season started,” Patrick said. “Just the idea of getting back into games and feeling that adrenaline rush has been on my mind constantly since I decided to go back. I think being away from hockey gave me time to work on the mental side of my game, and I’ve found that to be a huge part of it and something that I needed to work on before. I feel both physically and mentally stronger, which now has left me in a great place of anticipation for the start of this season.”
Patrick, who has been skating with some of the very best young Manitobans – including consensus 2020 first round NHL draft selection Seth Jarvis – during the COVID-19 pause recalls the exact moment when he knew his fortunes for the coming season had changed.
“I was actually driving home when I got the call,” Patrick reflected. “I started smiling when I saw Paul’s name in the Caller ID because I knew that something must have gone down. I had earlier been in conversation with the Raiders about an opportunity like this, so now having this great organization give me the opportunity to get into game shape prior to heading to camp in Prince Albert is just a great opportunity.”
Pistons’ head coach Paul Dyck is certainly excited to have Patrick’s presence in his lineup, and has already cited his high-level of compete exhibited on a nightly basis. Despite wanting to have the left-shooting Winnipegger at his beck and call for the entirety of the season, Dyck may only be able to retain Patrick’s services for the season’s opening months.
“The plan as of now is that I will start the year with Steinbach and get as many games in as I can before the Prince Albert camp starts,” Patrick said. “As of now, that’s looking like it will take place somewhere in mid-November. Having not played much of the season last year, as well as the coming WHL season continuing to be pushed back due to COVID-19, I’ve just been itching to get back on the ice and back into game scenarios.”
Now moving southeast to Steinbach, Patrick has found himself alongside some familiar teammates, in having attended school and playing hockey with both Ty Naaykens and Kyle Bettens (who is also considering playing with Cedar Rapids of the USHL). Potentially suiting up next to a couple childhood friends should provide the 19-year-old with some ease and comfort in his new locale.
“Having buddies on the team will definitely make a transition like this even easier, especially when they’ve had nothing but good things to say about their time in Steinbach,” Patrick reflected. “Hearing those things and seeing firsthandedly how Steinbach is a first-class organization makes it so easy to be excited for this opportunity. The Pistons have been a strong team consistently and have another strong team this year, I’m hoping to do my part to add to that and to work with good players to get stronger while improving my overall game.”