~ written by Jamie Neugebauer
Noah Wills’ Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League career has already been highly eventful despite only the five games played for his Melville Millionaires.
Drafted by the Weyburn Red Wings in 2018, he was dealt to the Battlefords North Stars in Aug. 2019, and then on to the Mills in June of 2020; all before he played a single SJHL contest.
That he has been moved so many times already reflects the three clubs’ understanding of his high value as a person and player, not anything negative, yet the strangeness was not lost on the talented 2003-born forward.
“It was a little bit weird, to be honest,” Wills says, “because I went to three different fall camps in three different years.”
“I met a lot of new coaches and teammates over that time, so that was definitely a positive, but once I was traded to Melville and I got there I definitely knew that it was where I wanted to play.”
A Swift Current native, Wills finished up his U15 career on an SC Broncos AA team that also featured current Pittsburgh Penguins prospect and SJHL alum Ryan McCleary and high 2023 NHL draft prospect Kalan Lind, and then tried out the prep school loop in Caronport, SK at the Prairie Hockey Academy where he dominated in 2018-19, leading the U17 league with 59 points in 24 games.
His minor hockey career was cut short, like many, in the playoffs of the 19-20 Sask U18 campaign, where he was a key part of a deep Tisdale Trojans U18 squad.
Wills feels that the choice to move away from home at 15, and to diversify his hockey experiences between the Saskatchewan system and the CSSHL level, have served him very well in his development on and off the ice thus far.
“I think (both experiences were) integral parts of who I am today,” Wills says.
“P.H.A. was nice in that you travelled around and went into games not really knowing what you were up against, you had to adjust to that game really quickly and adapt your playing style if you needed to, to help your team win that game. It was nice to get a different look at hockey across western Canada. Playing in the AAA league, which is a great league, having to bring your ‘A’ game each night, fighting to stay every night in the roster where you wanted to play, having to fight every night for your ice time, it really helped me grow to play at the junior level now.”
Wills’ education with Melville thus far has been rich, as he has shared a locker room with a coach like Mike Rooney, who has developmental experiences ranging from the National Hockey League, collegiate, and junior levels, and teammates the likes of NHL prospects Jayden Dureau, Reece Newkirk, and Landon Kosior as a rookie during the Covid shortened 20-21 SJHL campaign.
For Wills, the learnings were less about the skills of the game and more about the level of professionalism that it takes to get to the highest levels.
“I mostly learned a lot off the ice from those guys,” he says.
“How to prepare, even for practices, they are there early, stretching out, warming up, making sure they’re ready to go so that as soon as they step on the ice, they are 100% ready to be their best. The time they spend at the rink, just to make sure they are ready for games, they know their opponent and understand what they have to do each night to help the team win.”
Though he calls himself a pass-first forward, Wills scored 24 goals in 24 games at PHA, and a very respectable 12 goals as a rookie in Saskatchewan U18, so his profile looks to be of one able to fill the scoresheet.
His hopes are squarely on the NCAA Division I level, and with maturity beyond his years, and the skill to match, it would be hard to bet against him reaching his goal.