Produced by the WHL in partnership with BC Tree Fruits, “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” is a multi-part series highlighting the next generation of WHL stars set to embark on a journey pursuing NHL dreams. “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” can be seen monthly at WHL.ca, featuring a key member of the upcoming 2018 NHL Draft Class. Together, the WHL and BC Tree Fruits are “Growing the Game’s Best Talent.”
Playing in the NHL is a dream for many young hockey players, but it is hard to reach, especially for those from small towns across the Prairies. However, for Cole Fonstad, this dream may become reality.
Fonstad is from Estevan, Sask. He has spent his entire playing career in his home province of Saskatchewan. Making his Bantam debut with the Estevan Bruins Bantam AA. His impressive Bantam play earned him a short stint with the Moose Jaw Generals in the Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League before he was selected fifth overall by the Prince Albert Raiders in the 2015.
The 5-foot-11, 163-pound forward made his WHL debut as an under-aged player in 2015-16, playing two games and notching his first WHL assist. The next season, he earned a full-time position in the line-up posting 26 points (11G-15A) in 69 games. The 2017-18 season saw him drastically improve on his rookie season and solidify himself as a play-maker, posting 73 points (21G-52A) in 72 appearances.
“I just tried to work hard in the off-season, getting faster and stronger,” Fonstad said of his impressive offensive output this season. Adding that “confidence is such a big thing and once you have it you can just roll with it.”
His off-season training helped in more than just his WHL season with the Raiders as Fonstad also earned the opportunity to play with Team Canada in the U18 World Championship.
“It’s a little different in parts of the game, obviously [the ice surface is] a lot wider, so it’s little things like getting out to the wall that takes a few extra steps,” Fonstad said on the international ice surface.
“The offensive side of the game is almost a little better, you have more space but it’s also a lot more skating that you’re not used to. [However], once you get used to it, its almost an advantage. It was a pretty cool experience to go [to Russia] and play.”
The former first-round pick has proved why the Raiders drafted him so high, and has certainly assisted his teams progress, helping them reach the playoffs after failing to qualify the previous year.
“It was really cool,” Fonstad said of tasting playoff hockey for the first time at the major junior level. “The game really steps up in the playoffs, it’s a lot more intense, it’s faster, more hitting, it’s really tight checking and anything can happen.”
Anything almost did happen as the bottom-seed Raiders took the regular season champion Moose Jaw Warriors to seven games in the first round of the 2018 WHL Playoffs, losing 5-4 in the elimination game.
That game wasn’t the end of Fonstad’s focus as he quickly shifted his attention to the NHL Combine in Buffalo, N.Y.
“It was a really cool experience, [meeting] with all the NHL teams is [something] you don’t get to do every day,” Fonstad said.
“I thought it all went really well. I didn’t have any expectations [heading in], I just wanted to go there and have fun, experience it, and just be myself. All around it was a great experience”.
As important as skills are, Fonstad saw the importance of being himself and portraying his personality.
“I think that’s the most important thing,” he said. “[The scouts] watch you play all year long, they know you can play hockey. Everyone [at the combine] can play hockey. Now they are looking for good people and if you can show that through your personality, that’s going to give you a better chance to succeed.”
With the NHL Combine behind him and the uncertainty of where or by whom he will be drafted by, Fonstad is looking forward to next season with the Raiders, who he has big plans for.
“I think it is going to be a good year [for us]. We have a lot of our core coming back along with some players we picked up at the deadline that were very good for us,” Fonstad said of the Raiders.
“The biggest thing is going to be getting off to a good start. That will be a really big part of our season to help us dictate the play down the stretch.”
A good start wouldn’t hurt the Raiders who won nine straight games from February 21 to March 10. That nine-game winning streak was needed as Prince Albert narrowly edged the Saskatoon Blades for the last spot in the playoffs by three points.
The Raiders will look to make it to the playoffs for consecutive years since the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons if they obtain a playoff berth this season.
While Fonstad has big plans for his team, he also has big plans for himself.
“I still want to get a lot faster and stronger and increase my confidence [heading into next season].”
Fonstad will be entering his third full season with the Prince Albert Raiders next season and admits that he is excited for the NHL draft.
“You see all the names on TV and see the guys that go up on stage. It’s really cool to get to meet with them and hopefully I will get to know some of them a little more”.