(Photo courtesy: Marla Possberg)
Karter McNarland has found himself in rare company more than once in the past year. From making the Humboldt Broncos as a 16-year-old last fall, to committing to the University of Vermont (NCAA D1) this month (scholarship begins 2022-2023), the Saskatoon product finds himself on a short list of Saskatchewan products to do either.
16-year-olds, especially point-per-game 16-year-olds are few and far between in the SJHL, while the Vermont Catamounts don’t dip into the western Canadian talent pool often, but their Canadian content also includes former Flin Flon defenseman Cory Thomas. McNarland says he’s thrilled to be joining such an elite program.
“Vermont was always a school that appealed to me because of all the great hockey minds they have there with Todd Woodcroft who used to be Assistant coach with the Jets and Mike Babcock. It was a pretty easy decision for me.” Babcock, the former NHL coach in Toronto, Detroit, and Anaheim was hired as a coaching staff consultant in Vermont over the summer, while Woodcroft if the club’s current head coach.
McNarland will get accustomed to life south of the border, as he’ll make the move to the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL this season, with plans to play two seasons there before joining Vermont in 2022-2023, when he’ll still be just 19 years old. He’s the first Saskatchewan-born player to play in the USHL at age 17 since Jaden Schwartz joined the Tri-City Storm back in 2008-09. Schwartz would go on to be drafted in by St. Louis in the first round, before playing a large part in the Blues’ Stanley Cup in 2018-2019.
“I think the USHL is the best stepping stone for me to have an impact in the NCAA because you are playing against teams full of D1 commits so it will help prepare me for the jump to the NCAA. I thought my season went well last year, I had a ton of great teammates that contributed to my success and a coach that trusted me so I owe most of my success to them. The City of Humboldt was also unbelievable with the support they gave the team it was amazing to play in front of them every night.”
With four years of potential junior eligibility still ahead of him, McNarland had plenty of options ahead of him. In 2018 when McNarland was selected in the first round, seventh overall by the Broncos in the SJHL draft, he was also a seventh round selection of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, who had to be keeping close tabs on his 50-point 16-year-old campaign last year. Jumping to Kamloops would have meant voiding McNarland’s U.S. College eligibility.
“The main thing that led to my decision to take the NCAA route is how much more time you have to develop to try to become a pro hockey player. I also love how in college hockey you take time for your body in the gym to get stronger everyday as well because that is something I think I need.”
His former Coach/GM Scott Barney admits McNarland will be tough to replace but at the end of the day they’ll be pulling for him back home.
“That’s part of our job here in Junior ‘A’ is to develop kids to the next level and we’re very happy for him, he knows he has our total support and if thing didn’t work out he knows the door is always open. But we’re really excited for him this year and of course going forward into Vermont, it’s a great opportunity for him. His vision on the ice and his drive to be better really separated him from players in his age group last year.”
Even with last year’s top rookie moving on, the Broncos are poised to contend in 2020-2021 with several other key returnees back in the fold, including defenseman Chase Felgueiras who returns from Portage (MJHL) as part of the futures that sent him to the RBC Cup hosts last year, before the season was halted due to Covid. Barney says everyone’s antsy to get back at it.
“We’re excited to get the season going here, our players have worked hard over the extended off-season, we think we have a good club but there are a lot of good clubs around the SJ and we’ll have to work for it every night.”