By Scott Billeck
The Program of Excellence, a series of development camps culminating in a Western Canada Under-16 Challenge Cup tournament has produced its fair share of talent throughout the years. This year, two WHL first round draft picks are leading the POE charge and one of them is Oakbank, Manitoba’s Brett Howden.
If the name Howden rings a bell, you may be thinking of his older brother, Quinton, who is now a member of the NHL’s Florida Panthers. The elder Howden represented Canada at the 2011 and 2012 IIHF World Junior Championships. He was taken first overall by the Moose Jaw Warriors in 2006 and was drafted in the first round, 25th overall by the Florida Panthers in 2010.
In a world full of hand-me-downs, those are quite the old shoes to fill. But the younger Howden is very much up for the task, and uses his brother’s experience as a template for his own aspirations.
“It has shown me what it takes to get to where he is,” said Howden. “I’ve seen all the steps he has taken and where he has got to now, it just shows me that this goal can happen. You just got to believe it and work hard every day.”
Brett was taken fifth overall by his brother’s alma mater, the Moose Jaw Warriors, in this year’s WHL Bantam Draft.
“I was just sitting there watching the draft, and it was coming up to Moose Jaw,” said Howden with rising enthusiasm. “I looked at my dad and said this is convenient! Hopefully, hopefully I was saying! Lucky for me, I got to go there, it’s a great organization. Going to Moose Jaw is an extra bonus. It’s a home away from home for my family.”
Howden feels honoured to be playing in Hockey Manitoba’s Program of Excellence, a program that has produced the likes of Jonathan Toews, Jordin Tootoo, Ian White, and his brother Quinton, over the years.
“It’s a great camp, all the best players in Manitoba are going to this,” said Howden. “Just to be selected to that is a huge honour. It helps everybody along the way; it’s a great experience for everyone to see what you have to go through to get there. I am looking forward to the next couple of weeks to see what happens.”
Howden played this past season for the Eastman Selects AAA Midget team. At just 14, playing with older kids might have been a challenge, but it was one he relished.
“Me and my dad talked about it, about me being capable of moving up,” said Howden. “We talked to the coaches and luckily I got a try out. Luckily enough for me I made the team, it took me a couple of games to get comfortable but halfway through the season I felt comfortable. It was a good challenge for me.”
Troy Kennedy, Head Coach of the Eastmen Selects has nothing but good things to say about Howden and what he added to the team this past year.
“He had to be in our Top 6 to make our team this year,” says Kennedy. “When he first started he was probably in our top-12 and just through camp and through the exhibition games he moved himself up to where he made our team. Going into the year he moved himself up, and by the end of the year he ended up being one of our top two forwards.”
Kennedy has no qualms about Howden going forward, both in midget and into junior hockey with the Moose Jaw Warriors.
“He plays a good game, he goes into the corners, and he sees the ice very well,” said Kennedy. “He plays great defensively, he has size to him, and his attitude is what is going to help him be successful.”
Howden will now wait as the selections for the 26-man final Prep Camp are being finalized. The Hockey Manitoba U-16 Prep Camp goes August 14 – 17 in Winnipeg and it’s there where the final cuts will be made and the 20-man roster will be established for the Western Canada Under-16 Challenge Cup in Calgary in the fall.
Meanwhile, the younger Howden will rely on his “great attitude,” as he looks toward his future in the game.
“Attitude is huge,” he said. “I learned a lot growing up from my parents and my brother, learning all the little things to do. Having a good attitude and being a leader on and off the ice is huge. It keeps the team together, I love being a leader, someone everybody looks up to. If I can be that guy, that’s what I love to do.”
(All Photos by Denis Gravel)