By Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

At age 15, Tanner Molendyk’s relentless dedication to the game he loves is paying off big time. On Apr. 22, he was picked fifth in the first-round Western Hockey League bantam draft to play for the Saskatoon Blades.

It started before he was two, when Tanner Molendyk dug his feet into that first pair of skates and wobbled his way across the ice at the Robson Valley Recreation Centre in McBride.
Soon after, he was skating at the arena every day, twice if someone would take him, and so it went on: he played hockey at the rink, on the street, at home, wherever and whenever he could.

“He was always shooting balls and stuff around the house,” said his dad Jamie. “He would just want to skate for hours and hours.”

Now 15, Tanner Molendyk’s relentless dedication to the game is paying off. On Apr. 22, he was picked fifth in the first-round Western Hockey League bantam draft to play for the Saskatoon Blades.

“It was obviously super exciting,” said Tanner in a WHL Future Stars web interview. “It’s a huge honour to be selected by such a great organization.”

The respect sounds mutual.

“This kid is special,” tweeted Saskatoon Blades president and general manager Colin Priestner shortly after the draft was complete.

Cited for his speed and powerful shot, among other attributes, Tanner was captain of the Yale Hockey Academy in Abbotsford, B.C., for the past season where he racked up 9 goals and 46 assists, for a total of 55 points, exceptional, even if he wasn’t a defenceman. Understandably, he was named defenceman of the year by the Canadian Sports School Hockey League.

“I like my two-way game,” Molendyk said. “I like to play more defense than I do offence, but I also love my part of the offence game.”

Priestner called Tanner a ‘total package defender.”

Tanner’s dad said his son takes pride in making sure nobody scores when he’s on defence.

“He’s not afraid to jump in, to use his body; he’s a pretty aggressive kid playing hockey, but he also likes to step up and help his team offensively.”

In a mock bantam draft run by Dub Network Scouting, contributor Jesse Phillips picked Molendyk second and had this to say: “Whether eliminating an attacker into the boards or jumping

in on the forecheck to pin a defender and secure the puck for his team, Molendyk’s understanding of how to use his body is rarely seen in players his age.”

When asked about his best skills, Tanner was more measured.

“I think it’s just knowing where to pass before I even get the puck,” he said. “Just knowing where people are.”

An ability, his dad said, he’s had since he was little. “He’s always been able to pick plays apart, see plays before they even happen; he’s got a really good hockey sense.”

“Mix in a high skill level, a competitive fire, and strong leadership abilities and you’ve got a dynamic player who has an incredible ceiling,” Blades Director of Scouting Dan Tencer was quoted as saying.

Those are some high expectations to meet, but Tanner sounds undaunted and ready to go. He intends to spend the summer getting stronger and faster.

“He’s put his full commitment into what he wants to do,” said his grandfather Mike who also lives in McBride. “And he’s a hockey player through and through.”

Over and above the work ethic and talent, there’s another quality all truly great players have that sets them apart.

It’s in a story the elder Molendyk tells about his grandson. A few years ago, Tanner called his grandfather after a tournament, and recapped some highlights leading to his team’s ultimate victory, 7-5 in the final game.

“I asked him how he did,” said Mike. “He said, ‘Well, I did okay, we won. It was a close game, but we did good.’”

Later that night, Jamie called. “He told me Tanner got six points,” said Mike. “He didn’t even tell me.”

When asked what he thought made a good team leader, Tanner didn’t hesitate.

“Being able to cheer up your teammates if they’re not having a great game,” he said. “Letting them know what they could do better (but) not being rude to them.”

[email protected]