Longtime linemates lighting it up with Bruins

Jake Virtanen, Mitch Skapski and Matt Revel have been putting up big numbers in the B.C. Major Midget League this season.

Mitch Skapski

Mitch Skapski

Jake Virtanen, Mitch Skapski and Matt Revel have been lighting up the B.C. Major Midget League this season, and theirs is hardly an overnight success story.

The trio’s chemistry has been forged over the past six years, dating back to when they were linemates on a spring league team at the atom level.

Their high-scoring partnership has endured through peewee, bantam and now midget hockey with the Fraser Valley Bruins. All three currently find themselves among the top 12 scorers in the BCMML, the province’s elite prep circuit for top prospects.

Virtanen is ninth overall with 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in 24 games, with Skapski (18g, 13a, 31pts) and Revel (16g, 14a, 30pts) close behind. The trio was recently named to the BCMML all-star game, along with Bruins defenceman Austin Edwards.

The Virtanen-Skapski-Revel triumvirate doesn’t just spend a lot of time together on the ice – they all attend Yale Secondary, where they’re members of the school’s hockey academy and take most of their Grade 10 classes together.

“It’s a brotherly relationship,” Skapski said with a chuckle when asked if they ever get sick of one another. “We love each other and stuff, but sometimes we can get a bit frustrated with each other.”

“But after practice,” Virtanen chimed in, “we love each other again.”

Midget hockey is a three-year age division, and Bruins head coach Troy Campbell said that what Virtanen, Skapski and Revel are accomplishing as first-year midget players is very impressive. After playing them together as a unit for the bulk of the season, he broke them up two weeks ago in order to spread the scoring balance across the lineup.

“It’s a huge adjustment for most players, because it’s a very fast, tight-checking league,” said Campbell, whose team heads into the Christmas break with a 10-10-4 record. “The strength of the older guys is there, and generating any type of offensive opportunity is quite a feat in itself. They’ve really capitalized well in that area.”

The trio succeeds because their skill sets compliment each other. Skapski, on the left wing, is a scrappy player who loves playing in the high-contact areas. Revel, in the middle, is an intelligent playmaker. And Virtanen, on the right wing, is a phenom whose skating and shooting abilities – according to Campbell – are almost NHL-calibre already.

Virtanen and Skapski were both picked in the WHL bantam draft in May – Virtanen went first overall to the Calgary Hitmen, becoming the first Abbotsford player to earn that lofty distinction, while Skapski was tabbed in the fourth round to the Portland Winterhawks.

Revel went undrafted – a turn of events which Campbell attributes to the fact that he’s also an outstanding baseball prospect. He plays shortstop and third base with the Abbotsford Junior Cardinals.

Hockey options have materialized for Revel this fall, though. In early September, he was listed by the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, and he was picked second overall in the BCHL (junior A) affiliate draft by the Chilliwack Chiefs.

At this point, Revel isn’t sure whether he’ll go with hockey or baseball long-term, or whether he’d prefer the major junior or the junior A hockey route.

“I love playing baseball, and I love playing hockey,” he said. “I’m not quite sure right now what’s going on yet.”

Virtanen, given his status as the first overall WHL draft pick, draws the greatest level of scrutiny of the trio. He’s been as advertised – Campbell said he’s scored a half-dozen highlight-reel goals this season that remind him of a young Pavel Bure.

The number Campbell is most concerned about is Virtanen’s 72 penalty minutes, which are fifth-most in the league.

“Other teams like to get under his skin,” Campbell said. “It’s just something he has to adjust to.

“If he can get away from that aspect of not falling into their traps, he’s going to be one heck of a player.”