Photos by Jonathan Kozub (Point Shot Photography)
Doug Sinclair, the head coach of Manitoba’s Under-16 provincial team, remembers clearly why he kept Linden McCorrister ahead of some young centremen who put up bigger numbers.
“When we were building the team, we had a lot of centremen,” said Sinclair candidly. “Linden was with us as a depth guy. We knew we were going to have to move some centremen to the wings, but we wanted to keep Linden in the middle. He plays hard, he checks hard and he’s very responsible.
“We used Linden to shut down (WHL No. 1 draft pick Tyler) Benson. We needed a physical centreman who would check. Linden fit the bill.”
Linden McCorrister, who began his hockey career at Peguis First Nation and still makes Peguis his home today, might not be the best player in the Manitoba Triple A Midget Hockey League, but he’s probably the best third or fourth-line checking centre in the province.
And that’s exactly what Sinclair was looking for when he put together the team that would represent Manitoba at the 2013 Western Canada Under-16 Challenge Cup last month.
The Western Canada Challenge Cup was held at Father David Bauer Arena in Calgary and Team Manitoba finished a surprising 2-2 and won the bronze medal against teams from British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. The team was just one goal away from beating Team B.C. to lock up a silver medal.
For Sinclair, who had three superstar centres in Nolan Patrick, Dylan Thiessen and Tanner Kaspick, having McCorrister in the lineup was exactly what he needed. He was looking for a responsible, checking centre who could down the opposition’s top player and that’s what he got out of this 5-foot-10, 160-pound 15-year-old.
“He killed penalties for us and was really responsible and played hard in the defensive zone. Some people questioned keeping Linden. Some people thought there were more skilled players and there probably was. But we needed a defensive centre and I have no regrets about taking him on the trip.”
McCorrister began playing the game as a five-year-old at Peguis. When he was “about eight,” he and his family realized that he might have a future in the game. That’s when he started to move up.
Now he’s a member of the Interlake Lightning of the Manitoba Triple A Midget Hockey League where he has five goals and an assist in 16 games this season. As a member of Sinclair’s under-16 provincial Program of Excellence team, McCorrister believes he took some significant strides as a player.
“I really liked the program because it was so structured,” he said. “I was also excited to travel to Calgary with the team.
“I’ve had a good year. Going to spring camp with the (Brandon) Wheat Kings was really good, too. I learned a lot while I was there. I’ve had a good learning experience this year.”
Sinclair, who had four centremen on the provincial team who had all been drafted in the WHL bantam draft by the Wheat Kings, said that McCorrister was one of his most dedicated and “engaging” players.
“He’s a really physical player and, honestly, he really worked his way into our lineup,” said the head coach. “His coachability is amazing. He was one of those rare kids who always turned and looked you in the eye on the bench. He would come off the ice and ask good questions. I like that. I like it when a kid is interested in the game and dedicated to making himself better. He’s really an engaging kid and he’s great to coach.
“In Game 3 of the tournament, he hurt his thumb and he never complained. He just went out and worked harder. Never said a word about his injury, just tried to play as well as he possibly could. I was really impressed with him.”
No doubt that will please McCorrister, who wants to take the game of hockey as far as he possibly can. Not only has he been drafted by the Wheat Kings, but also by the Swan Valley Stampeders of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
“I really want to play hockey for a long time and see how far I can take it,” he said. “In two years, my plan is to make Brandon and next year I want to play in Swan Valley or somewhere in the MJHL. Right now, my goal is to play for the Wheat Kings in two years.”
Provincial coach Doug Sinclair is one guy who believes Linden McCorrister has the talent to make it.