(Article written by Jamie Neugebauer)
There are hometown heroes who wear their local team’s jersey with immense pride all across the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
That said, it is hard to imagine anybody does so with more pride than Notre Dame’s 2005-born defenceman Vincent Palmarin.
Born in Regina, Vinny moved with his family to Wilcox as a three-year-old when his dad Rob got a job at the college. For the last six years, he has not worn any other uniform.
“I love playing for my town and for Notre Dame,” Palmarin says.
“I have dreamt of playing for them my whole life. I’ve lived here my whole life, and I just feel really proud to wear the crest that I wear today. It feels great to wear the crest. You know, like you said, I’ve worn it for five, six years now, and I just always feel that loyalty and compassion and a lot of comfort that I get from this place. And I know that everyone here is just rooting for me.”
Palmarin’s final season in minor hockey before making the jump to junior was a special one, as he and the 2021-2022 Hounds U18 ‘AAA’ defeated the Warman Wildcats to take the Saskatchewan U18 championship.
They followed that up with a West Region title, which they did against two Manitoba teams in Manitoba, and then a trip to the 2022 Telus Cup in Okotoks, AB.
It was an experience Palmarin undertook with past and present SJHL Hounds teammates Cole Wirun, Andrew Altwasser, Keagan Merriman, Sam Borschowa, and Connor O’Keefe.
“I think we all just realized we had a job to do and we really played as a team,” he says of that magical season.
“We were just so tight-knit, and I have such great memories of playing with all of those guys. I think we had the oldest team in the (Saskatchewan) league, so we kind of knew what was at stake. We had a lot of experience to go with it as well, so I think everyone was just really dialled in on what they had to do and yeah, I’ll never forget it.”
Upon the completion of that campaign, Palmarin still had a year left of high school. With suitors ranging far and wide for his junior rights, including from the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels, Vinny chose to buy into the program of Junior Hounds head coach and general manager Brett Pilkington, and graduate in the red and white of ‘ND’.
It’s a decision he does not regret for a second.
“I think it was best for me just to stay back here to play junior and hopefully go in the (NCAA Division I) college direction,” he says.
“I felt that playing under Brett, just having a good relationship with him, knowing that he’ll always be there to help me and that I would get an opportunity with him, it was the right move for me. I could have gone to the WHL as a 17-year-old, maybe not play as much being out of the lineup, but I think it was just the best choice for me to stick to this junior road, and see what happens in the future.”
All was going to plan after two months of terrific hockey into his rookie campaign in 2022-2023; until he hit a major speed bump.
That bump came on Nov. 29, 2022, when the point shot of a La Ronge Ice Wolves player smoked him in the face. It took him almost a further two months to recover, and then more time to regain his previous elite two-way form.
Then when preparing for the current 2023-2024 season, an illness kept him out most of training camp and all of pre-season. Another injury has also kept him in and out of the line-up throughout the regular season.
Notre Dame’s famous motto ‘Struggle and Emerge’ rings through in Palmarin’s attitude.
“Obviously (these injuries) have been a bit disappointing and unfortunate things to happen,” he says.
“But these are things that are really out of my control, and I can’t do anything about them. But I am human, so I was pissed off and, you know, disappointed and I thought everything kind of just went down the drain there in terms of college offers and stuff like that. But then I still realized I was a 16-year-old in the league, you know, with lots of time too. And, you know, when unfortunate things happen, you just have to stay positive and get through it and then just be ready when you come back. So, you know, when I got back, I thought I made a pretty good push at the end, and I thought I helped my team out as best I could.”
Back to full strength at the time of writing, Palmarin is starting to find that form that had him near or top of the list of potential NCAA Division I prospects mid-way through last season.
A terrific athlete, with five older brothers who taught him to compete no matter the odds, and as his big shot and offensive game continue to develop, Coach Pilkington sees a guy who could be ready for the highest levels of U.S. college hockey very soon.
“He is a true leader,” says Pilkington, who gave him an assistant captain’s letter this season despite his youth.
“He does all the right things on and off the ice, and even though he isn’t the oldest guy on our team, he is someone all of the guys on our team can look up to and learn from. He takes care of business in the gym, he practices with a purpose and wants to win so badly, so I truly believe he is the definition of the type of athlete college coaches are looking for.”
The first two months of this season have been a struggle for the Hounds, but if Notre Dame is to turn it around and make a serious playoff push, it will have to be with the rugged Palmarin right in the middle of it.