They told him the time would go by fast, but Shayne Neigum never really understood what his veteran teammates were talking about until his year.
At training camp, Neigum looked to one side and saw 17-year-old Brendan Persley on his wing, then looked to the other side to see 17-year-old Tim Traber.
“Holy cow, where did the four years go?” Neigum mused. “I remember my first days in Edmonton with the Oil Kings like it was yesterday. My 20-year-old teammates told me it goes by fast and I just thought, ‘Oh yeah. Whatever.’ But here I am.”
Neigum is one of four 20-year-olds currently inhabiting the Chilliwack Bruins roster, which puts him in the middle of a tense situation.
The others are defencemen Jeff Einhorn and Brandon Manning along with goaltender Lucas Gore.
The Western Hockey League 20-year-old cut-down day is Oct. 14, and Neigum knows with 100 per cent certainty that he or one of his friends will no longer be a Bruin after that day.
“It puts a feeling in your stomach and you know you’ve got to work extra hard,” Neigum said. “We’re all good guys and the best of friends, but unfortunately one of us has to go.”
Most of the time, players are able to concentrate on hockey, worrying about breakouts and defensive zone coverage.
But once in a while, the business reality moves to the forefront. This is one of those instances.
“We hang out with each other and it sucks knowing one of us has to go,” Neigum admitted. “But no matter what, all four of us are good players and whichever one of us it is, I’m sure that person will find a new hockey home very quickly.”
Neigum’s skill set makes him a good bet to stay, filling the skates of the graduated Colton Grant. Linemates last year, Neigum picked up a lot from Grant, a player who didn’t produce much offensively but added so much to the team.
“We’re all good players with good qualities,” he said. “I think I’m an intense guy who tries to lead by example. On the ice, I want to be the guy who does the dirty work, taking care of the small things that are often overlooked by the standout players.”
Neigum has shown some offensive ability in the past, and won’t be disappointed if he can build on his point totals from last season (72-11-13-24).
“The word that comes to my mind with 20 year olds is responsible,” Neigum noted. “We are known as more responsible guys who are looked upon to lead in the dressing room and with our actions on the ice. All of us have a minimum of three years experience, so we know a lot about the league and we know what it takes to play in the league.”
Goaltender Gore is in the same boat as Neigum, playing a position that is often seen as a spot for the young.
With Braden Gamble (19) and Cole Holowenko (17) both on the roster, he knows he can’t afford to slip for a moment if he wants to remain a Bruin and remain the starting netminder.
“I’ve definitely spent some time thinking about it,” he admitted on Wednesday. “We know one’s got to go, so there’s pressure on all of us. There’s two other goalies here, and if they play as good as me, a switch will happen.”
Like Neigum, Gore will find it difficult when he was to say goodbye to a teammate.
“Everyone loves it here in Chilliwack and everyone wants to stay,” he said. “Those guys are some of my best friends. If I go or one of them goes, it’s going to be tough.”
Neigum, Gore and company open the season tonight in Vancouver before moving on to Kamloops tomorrow.
The home opener is next Saturday as the Bruins play the Blazers at Prospera Centre.
Game time will be 7 p.m.