Contemplating the prospect of suiting up for his hometown Abbotsford Pilots, Riley Parker channels Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.
“I’ve traveled a lot, but there’s no place like home,” the 19-year-old goalie said with a grin, prior to practice on Wednesday.
“I didn’t really realize how much I missed it until I came back.”
Parker’s career comes full-circle on Friday, when he’ll start between the pipes for the Pilots in their the Pacific International Junior Hockey League regular season opener against the North Delta Devils (7:30 p.m., MSA Arena).
The last time Parker played at MSA Arena was during the 2005-06 season, when he was the backup goalie on a memorable Abbotsford bantam AAA Hawks squad. That team went on to win the Western Canadian title – the first such triumph in Abbotsford Minor Hockey history.
Prior to his second bantam season, Parker elected to move to Wilcox, Sask. to enrol at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame. The legendary hockey factory has produced a bushel of NHLers over the years, from old-school stars like Wendel Clark, Russ Courtnall and Rod Brind’amour to current standouts like Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Jordan Eberle.
“My dad (Doug Parker) had gone to Notre Dame, so I knew a little bit about the hockey program,” Parker explained. “The hockey was exactly what I expected, and you live in the dorms with 60 of your best friends.”
Parker’s four years at Notre Dame were bookended by a bantam AAA provincial title in 2007, and a national AAA midget crown in 2010.
The latter season, Parker backstopped the Hounds to provincial and Western Canadian titles, and capped the campaign with a victory at the Telus Cup, the Canadian midget championship tourney, in Levis, Que.
“It was probably the best experience of my life,” he said. “I’ll never forget that moment.”
After four years of stability at Notre Dame, the 2010-11 campaign sent Parker on an odyssey through the junior A ranks.
His performance at midget nationals landed him a spot with the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, but two weeks into training camp, he was traded to the Camrose Kodiaks. Just over two weeks later – “I hadn’t even unpacked yet,” Parker said – he was loaned to the Olds Grizzlies for the season, with the idea he’d be back in Camrose for 2011-12.
Parker had a decent season in Olds, going 12-10-4 with two shutouts, but in mid-August of this year, he was traded yet again, to the Kindersley Klippers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Parker had grown tired of bouncing around at that point. Brett Kolins, a former bantam teammate and current Pilots defenceman, prevailed upon him to give Pilots head coach Jim Cowden a call, and that conversation led to the Pilots acquiring Parker’s rights from Kindersley for cash considerations.
“I was pretty tired of moving around, and I hadn’t been home in five years,” Parker said. “It gave me goose bumps the first time I stepped onto the ice (at MSA Arena) again.”
For a player with a Telus Cup on his resumé, playing junior B might seem like a comedown. But Parker doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m playing for the love of the game, not for the jersey or the rep,” he said. “I’m playing in my hometown, and I couldn’t really ask for more.”
For the Pilots, Parker’s arrival was a gift from the hockey gods. Veteran starter Brad Anderson completed his junior eligibility last season, and Cowden was seeking a keeper to pair with returnee Cole Chreptyk.
“We were kind of fortunate,” Cowden acknowledged. “What I like about Riley is, he competes. He’s always tracking that puck, always in good position.”
The Pilots are hosting the Cyclone Taylor Cup provincial championship in the spring (April 11-15), and Parker is joining a veteran-laden roster that has designs on winning the junior B crown on home ice.
The team’s top three scorers from last season – Riley Lamb, Kevin Lourens and Brad Parker – are among 13 returnees, and they’ll be backed by a deep and physical defensive corps.
“I think it’s going to be a good season – actually, I know it’s going to be a good season,” Parker amended. “The amount of experience here is more than I’ve ever seen on a junior team, and I’ve played on a few. It’s a good atmosphere, good guys, and the leadership is unreal.”