The COVID-19 outbreak didn’t spell an end to Ben Carroll’s last season with University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey.
The University of British Columbia Thunderbirds saw to that when they came into Clare Drake Arena and took two games off their first-place hosts in an upset of the Canada West Conference semifinal.
But the pandemic, and its ensuing lockdown, is sure having an effect on his transition to the pros, which lasted just two games into a tryout with Allen Americans of the ECHL hockey league.
“I was only there for just about three weeks,” said the 24-year-old Sherwood Park product, who has since returned home from team headquarters in Allen, Texas, 40 km north of Dallas. “We were kind of in limbo, and then they eventually cancelled it. With the East Coast, there’s not going to be anymore hockey this year.
“I was really looking forward to playing some more hockey, if I’m being honest. My professors at the U of A were unbelievable about it all, so it took me a few days to figure it out so I could still finish my school while I went down there. It was looking like it was going to be a real good opportunity and then s___ just kind of hit the fan there.”
Luke Philp, who graduated from the Bears a year ago and spent the season with the Stockton Heat of the American Hockey League, feels for his former teammate.
“For sure, it’s too bad for him,” said Philp, who is back home in Canmore with his own league postponed. “I mean, at least he got a couple games in. It was a well-deserved tryout for him down there, we’ll see what he ends up doing over the summer.
“It’s kind of unfortunate for all sports with things being shut down early here, but it’s for the greater good, so we’ve just kind of got to wait it out at this point.”
Of course, patience comes easier to more established players than someone just venturing into the pros.
“I don’t honestly know exactly what I’m going to do, where I’m going to end up next year,” Carroll said. “I would enjoy still playing hockey and playing pro somewhere, I just haven’t fully decided where or what my plan is exactly.”
Wherever he ends up, one thing is for sure: Carroll will always remember where he started. That’s because those two games with Allen were the first ones he’s played for a team outside of Edmonton.
“I was actually talking with my parents about that and a few of my buddies that I’ve kind of been a spoiled little brat that I got to stay,” said Carroll, who played minor hockey in Sherwood Park before jumping to junior with his hometown Crusaders.
From there, it was onto the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL prior to spending the last four years with the Bears. “I actually lived at home until I was 20 in the Dub, and then I moved out for university. But I got really lucky growing up just being able to play on local teams and still play on an alright level.
“So it was definitely a bit of a different experience for me, and obviously experiencing that a little bit later than a lot of guys do. Playing junior hockey, a lot of guys move away at 16 or 17 years old, so it’s definitely a bit of a learning curve but I wouldn’t say it was too crazy. It was a little bit of a different feeling just being quite a bit further away from everyone that I know and interact with on a day-to-day basis.”
While in Allen, Carroll was briefly reunited with a couple of familiar faces from the Oil Kings Memorial Cup championship in 2014.
“Ben Pollock and Cody Corbett both play down there, so it was actually really nice,” Carroll said. “Both of those guys reached out to me as I was making the decision, just talking to me about how it is down there and everything. They didn’t have a bad thing to say.”
The Memorial Cup wasn’t the only national championship on Carroll’s resume, either, winning a U-Sports title with Philp and the Bears in 2018.
“I got pretty lucky on a couple of pretty good teams, so that’s definitely a nice thing to have,” said Carroll, who supplemented his defensive prowess with his most offensively productive university season, earning 18 assists and 22 points in 28 games to sit eighth in team scoring. “That’s something I’ll never forget and something nobody will ever be able to take away from me.”
But after making it all the way back to the national final last year, his Bears fell well short of expectations this time around, which, with no more hockey to play, is still fresh in his mind.
“Definitely a bitter taste still. I think, looking back on this season it’s always going to be like that,” Carroll said. “It was definitely a dagger and you honestly never want to be a part of something like that, where it looked so promising for us.
“We had a really good team, we had a good season and then it all came to a grinding halt there at the end.”
And not only for the Bears, it turned out, but the eight teams that went on to nationals, only to leave disappointed after it was cancelled on opening day.
“I wouldn’t say that’s a silver lining, but it’s almost a silver lining,” Carroll said. “It definitely softens the blow a little bit.
“It’s still a pretty bad feeling, but I guess you learn from it and move on.”
To Allen, or beyond.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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