Being called into the head coach’s office doesn’t always portend good news, but for Brandon Daase, a chat with Abbotsford Pilots bench boss Jim Cowden during training camp took his hockey career in a welcome new direction.
Daase had served as a third-line checker and penalty-killing specialist for the Pilots in 2011-12, and played a key supporting role as the team won both the Cyclone Taylor Cup and the Keystone Cup, emblematic of provincial and Western Canadian junior B hockey supremacy, respectively.
The substance of Cowden’s training-camp message to Daase, though, was that he needed more from him offensively. The Pilots’ entire top line from the season before – Riley Lamb, Justin Dorey and Kevin Lourens – had exhausted their junior eligibility, leaving a scoring void that needed filling.
Daase was thrilled Cowden was looking to him to step up, and he currently finds himself fifth in team scoring with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 27 games. He mustered just six points in 21 games last year.
“Going into the season, I knew I wanted to step up my role,” said Daase, a Chilliwack native who turns 20 on Friday. “When he confirmed what I was hoping, I was really excited because I knew I’d get the opportunity. It’s something I really wanted.
“The biggest thing for me has been, I’ve gone out with the attitude that this is my last year, and I just want to have a lot of fun. With that, I took a lot of pressure off myself.”
The key to Daase’s game is versatility. He’s able to – and does – play all three forward spots, and Cowden uses him on the top power-play unit and the top penalty-killing unit.
“He’s so smart, and he’s always in the right position,” Cowden said. “He supports the puck very well, and makes great decisions.
“I told him I believed in his offensive ability, and he’s proven me right.”
The Pilots are on a seven-game winning streak, and Cowden believes this year’s squad might be even deeper and more well-rounded than last year’s championship team. Daase concurs.
“We have so many good core guys from last year’s successful team, and our leadership is so strong,” he said. “The new guys who came in, they adapted really quickly to the type of team we are. Going forward, I definitely think we can be a championship team.
“For a 20-year-old in your last year, this is exactly where you want to be.”
• The Pilots are back in action at MSA Arena on Friday, when they host the Delta Ice Hawks at 7:30 p.m.