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Photo: Jonathan Kozub/Manitoba MoosePhoto: Jonathan Kozub/Manitoba Moose

#AHLOTB: Following the road home

By Daniel Fink | AHL On The Beat

There’s something special about your hometown. Maybe you grew up there, or maybe you moved away when you were young. Maybe it’s a place you find yourself always coming back to, or maybe you’ve lived there your whole life. No matter where you go and what changes in life, it’s one thing that will always be a part of you.

Many of us cheer for our hometown teams, and when we’re kids we dreamed of throwing on that jersey. For a very select few, that dream becomes reality.

The 2016-17 Manitoba Moose opening night roster featured three Winnipeg-area products with Peter Stoykewych, Quinton Howden and Scott Glennie representing ‘Friendly Manitoba’. Stoykewych and Glennie hail directly from Winnipeg with Howden coming from Oakbank. The three played their minor hockey in the Winnipeg area and continued on to play in the Manitoba Midget AAA Hockey League: Stoykewych and Glennie with the Winnipeg Wild (one year apart) and Howden with the Eastman Selects. The three locals have memories of the Manitoba Moose as the team to watch with the first edition of the Jets having departed in their early years.

Howden looks back toward some of the team’s playoff success: “The Moose were here before (the Jets returned) and actually had a couple of good seasons. I remember going to a couple playoff runs watching them. It’s kind of cool to look back and now I’m playing for them.”

Meanwhile Glennie remembers some of the big names who suited up for the club, including someone he works with on a daily basis as part of the Jets organization.

“We used to look up to (the Moose) big time growing up. Keaner (Mike Keane) was one of the guys and (Scott) Arniel was one of the guys. It was something to do in the town too, obviously in Winnipeg once wintertime comes around that’s what there is to do when it’s minus-30 outside. It was good to have those guys around.”

When it came time to move on to junior, Glennie and Howden went on to play in the Western Hockey League, but stayed relatively close to home in Brandon and Moose Jaw respectively. Howden was the Warriors’ first overall pick in the 2007 WHL Bantam Draft. Glennie, a second round pick of the Wheat Kings, valued the experience of playing within a couple hours from his parents.

“It was awesome, just because I had my parents so close. Especially when you’re so young and moving away. It’s nice to have that in your back pocket. Your parents can come out all the time to watch and friends can come out all the time too.”

Not only was Brandon close to home, but it had the advantage of being a hockey mad, Western Manitoba market. Especially in Glennie’s years when the Wheat Kings posted a 172-92-9-16 record, visited the conference finals twice and reached the Memorial Cup final when Brandon hosted the tournament in 2010.

“It was great playing there, we had good fans. You know, it was a big hockey community. Kelly McCrimmon (now assistant GM with the NHL’s newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights) treated me unbelievably and I had a great four years there. It was awesome.”

Despite being a third round bantam pick of the Tri-City Americans, Stoykewych kept his NCAA eligibility open by playing locally in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League with the Winnipeg South Blues.

“It was different,” Stoykewych recalled. College was always something I wanted to do and wanted to go to. In order to do that I had to play junior-A hockey and ended up doing that here for the Blues and played out of Century Arena. As the local people know, it has some… character to it.”

Stoykewych was drafted from the Blues thanks in part to exposure gained playing in the CJHL Prospects game and the World Junior-A Challenge with Team Canada West. At the time, Stoykewych never expected where he, and the team who drafted him in the seventh round, would end up. The defenseman who attended St. John’s Ravenscourt and spent his free time on the ice at the Dutton Memorial Arena was the final draft selection of the Atlanta Thrashers before they moved to Winnipeg the following summer.

“It was crazy and couldn’t have worked out better. The year I got drafted by Atlanta, they moved to Winnipeg the next summer. Then I went to the USHL for a year and went to college for four years so five years later, that summer, the St. John’s IceCaps became the Manitoba Moose again. Right as I was turning pro, the farm team came here as well. It couldn’t have worked out any better and kind of inexplicable, just weird.”

Howden and Glennie made their way back to Winnipeg in different avenues. Howden signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Jets as a free agent on July 1. Glennie is on a professional tryout with the Moose. With all the options available to players in free agency, Howden felt it was an easy choice to come back to Manitoba.

“It was exciting. It’s kind of like a dream come true to be able to play at home, have family at every game, to have friends come out. It was kind of an easy decision for me and it’s been a lot of fun so far.”

While Howden made his home debut at the MTS Centre as a member of the Manitoba Moose, he realized his dream of suiting up for the Winnipeg Jets just weeks into the season. On Nov. 12, Howden was in California with the Moose and received the news he had been recalled by the Jets. The former Florida Panther played his first game with the Jets on Sunday, Nov. 13 against Los Angeles at the MTS Centre.

“It was a lot of fun,” Howden told reporters following his debut. “First shift was a little nerve-wracking. Obviously the crowd was full, so that was exciting. It kind of works in my benefit; I got to play in this rink already so it kind of makes it easier on me.”

Glennie’s debut with the Moose was somewhat delayed by an injury sustained in training camp. While the forward was concerned about missing time on a professional tryout, he credits the organization in giving him the time to recover. That patience was rewarded. Glennie played his first home game with the Moose against San Diego on Oct. 29. The following weekend, he broke out for five points (two goals, three assists) in two games against the Cleveland Monsters, being named the game’s first star on Nov. 5. The home games were worth the wait for Glennie.

“Coming out here and playing in front of all my friends and family every night so far has been awesome. The comfort level you have when you play at home is something I’ve not felt in 10 years so… it’s been awesome.”

One of the most important advantages to playing in Winnipeg for all three players is, like Glennie mentioned, the ability for family and friends to attend games. To have family close at hand for support on and off the ice can be invaluable as players traverse the ups and downs of the season.

“A lot of people’s family and friends don’t get to see them night in and night out like I do and that’s something I don’t take for granted,” said Stoykewych. “Being able to play pro hockey in your hometown is pretty incredible actually. The people that helped you are all around as well and that’s nice they’re able to see you and be a part of this whole thing as well.”

“It’s good. It’s just kind of another backbone that it gives you. Especially right now with a new team. It was a really easy transition for me because I know a lot of people around here and the guys have been good in the room. Being able to go home every day and talk with family and friends, it helps a lot.”

“It’s everything. Every kid will tell you the same thing; their families were always there,” explained Howden. “They took us to every practice. Even for me. I had lots of travel living outside the city, lots of travel to practices and stuff like that. Having them around is pretty special, because they haven’t really been around a lot like this since I before I was 15 so it’s pretty special.”

While all three traveled the path differently, their hockey journey returned them to Winnipeg. Whether it’s playing with the Moose or Jets, Peter Stoykewych, Scott Glennie and Quinton Howden all get to enjoy the unique experience of playing in their hometown. No matter where their careers take them, it’s a memory they can hold long after they’ve hung up their skates.