Dalton Yorke got a good taste of the Western Hockey League last season, suiting up for 40 games with the Kelowna Rockets.
Now the 18-year-old defenseman from Maple Ridge is going to try and take a bite out of the NHL, going to the San Jose Sharks rookie camp, with the hope of getting an invitation to the club’s main camp or his first professional contract.
“It’s a huge opportunity to kickstart my career,” said Yorke, who graduated from Samuel Robertson secondary in June.
After playing his formative years with the Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey Association, Yorke joined the Rockets last year after several seasons with the Northeast Chiefs of the B.C. Major Midget League. He played both forward and defense for Kelowna, getting in 10 fights.
He spent the off-season working on his skating, his lateral mobility and quickness, as well as his puck handling and shot, on the ice and in his garage.
He also worked more on his conditioning, lifting weights and going to a Crossfit gym.
He leaves for Kelowna this weekend for training camp, which starts Monday, and is confident he can secure a full-time role on the Rockets’ blueline.
He expects to start there, at least, but has been told he could play some forward again if the team needs some energy up front.
Yorke, 6’2.5” and 210 pounds, is fine with that, but see himself more as a smooth skating, physical defenseman, a bit like his favorite player, Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber, who also played for the Rockets.
Yorke found the junior game much quicker than major midget, especially the speed and crispness of the passes. He learned to keep his head up all the time, and that if he didn’t make the first pass he saw open right away, that option disappeared. He learned that if he made mistakes, he had to be more basic in his decisions.
“Keep it simple.”
It helped that he was on the ice every day for practice, and that coaches were always willing to help him work on his game afterwards.
“I improved tremendously last year,” he said.
Yorke wants to be more of a leader on the Rockets this season and more consistent in his play, to contribute every game.
He thinks he can.
He also thinks he can make an impression in San Jose.
The team interviewed him before the NHL draft in June, but didn’t select him. They called after the draft and invited him to the rookie camp, for which he leaves Sept. 10.
The Boston Bruins also invited Yorke to their rookie camp, but he chose the Sharks because they’ve shown consistent interest in him and because he’s long been a fan of the team, which featured two B.C. bred defensemen on its blue line last season – Scott Hannan and Matt Irwin.
Yorke will first take part in fitness testing with the Sharks, then a series of practices and scrimmages before going to Anaheim for an exhibition game against the Ducks’ prospects.
At first Yorke thought attending the San Jose camp would be good experience. But then he decided he wanted more than that – he wants to make an impression. He wants to get invited to the main camp. He wants the team to offer him a contract.
He’s not going to San Jose just to skate.
“Almost every day I think about what I’m going to do when I get there.”
At first it seemed surreal. He’s still nervous and excited, but ready to go.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted and I’m really close,” Yorke said, “so I want to make sure I make the most of it.”