Tebbutt's return has boosted Pilots
Breaking down the success of his top goal-scorer Michael Tebbutt, Abbotsford Pilots coach Jim Cowden offers a description which runs entirely counter to the 6'4" power forward's on-ice persona.
"He's like a big teddy bear," Cowden said. "Mike's a very, very lovable kid. The guys in the room like him, and he's very respectful."
It's odd to hear a rough-and-tumble player like Tebbutt referred to in those terms – in addition to leading the Pilots in goals (18) and sitting second in points (40), he's also second on the squad in penalty minutes (127).
But the Abbotsford native said it's not hard at this point in his career to go from being a grizzly bear on the ice to a teddy bear off it.
"It's something I've definitely worked at," he noted with a chuckle. "As soon as the game starts, my competitive nature totally switches gears from how I am off the ice, that's for sure."
The Pilots consider themselves fortunate to have Tebbutt in the fold.
He played his 16-year-old season (2008-09) with the local junior B hockey club, before moving up to the junior A ranks for three seasons with the Langley Rivermen. He was the Rivermen's third-leading scorer last season, with 24 goals and 23 assists in 53 games.
But with one year of junior eligibility remaining, Tebbutt decided to get a head start on his post-hockey career. Rather than pursue a U.S. college scholarship as so many of his junior A peers were doing, he elected to enroll in the first-year electrical apprentice program at University of the Fraser Valley, with an eye on becoming a firefighter in the future.
He wasn't sure he'd have time to play junior A, so he returned to the Pilots.
"I'd heard rumblings from people that he was thinking of coming back and playing for us, but I kind of left him alone," Cowden said. "He took about a month and a half to make the decision, but he wanted to make sure it was the right decision.
"He eventually phoned me and said, 'I want to come back.' We couldn't be happier."
Tebbutt, for his part, hasn't regretted his decision to step down from junior A to junior B.
"I've been pretty lucky to come back to a good team that's in first place in our conference, and I'm really enjoying it," he said.
"The biggest thing for us is, we have a group of guys with a lot of character. I know that as a team, our expectation is to have a deep run in playoffs, and hopefully repeat (as provincial and Western Canadian champions) just like last year. That's our goal."