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Photo credit: Garrett James Photography
By Nick Greenizan
Moving away to play junior hockey can be a tough, stressful decision for a teenage hockey player, no matter how far away from home they may be headed.
Luckily for Victoria native Owen Beckner, when it came time for him to pull up stakes and head to Salmon Arm to join the BC Hockey League’s Silverbacks last season as a 16-year-old rookie, he was already used to living away from his family.
In fact, Beckner, now 17, had already spent a few seasons away from home by the time the Silverbacks came calling. At 14, he left his hometown on Vancouver Island to play hockey at St. George’s, a Vancouver boarding school that plays out of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL).
“It was obviously a big move, moving cities, moving away from your family, but I think I just needed a switch,” Beckner said. “It’s a more competitive league [compared to where I was coming from], and you get a lot more exposure to junior teams. It’s also a great academic school and my parents and family have always really valued those things.”
“Having been away from home [prior to joining Salmon Arm], it definitely made the move a lot easier.”
And though he called it “a big sacrifice” and a tough decision, it has ultimately led him to the BCHL, where he is in the midst of a strong second season with 14 goals and 43 points in 45 games. As well, it has led him to a scholarship, having secured a commitment to the NCAA’s Colorado College earlier this season.
While Beckner’s career has taken him to Vancouver, Salmon Arm and soon Colorado Springs, the young centre is also quick to talk up the virtues of Victoria, which he calls “an underrated hockey town.”
“Vancouver gets a lot of [attention], but there’s a lot of talent coming out of Victoria now,” he said. “It was great competition growing up, all over the Island – Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Victoria… it was a great place to grow up playing hockey.”
Beckner, like many youngsters growing up in a hockey-obsessed country, got his start playing the sport with his siblings and friends.
“We played all kinds of sports, but hockey was the one we were most passionate about,” he explained. “We played a lot of street hockey, we’d roller-blade all over the neighbourhood, we played mini-sticks in the living room and shot pucks until the sun went down.”
Beckner said his family was also frequent junior-hockey game attendees – especially the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies when the playoffs began, he said – playing at that level himself was not something he really thought about until he left for Vancouver.
“I was never focused on it,” said Beckner. “I was just excited to wake up at 6 a.m. to go to practice and play with my buddies. That’s all it was about for me back then.”
Moving to St. George’s, however, “really drove me and pushed me to focus and become a better player, and then focus on playing junior.”
In his rookie season in Salmon Arm, he posted modest totals – four goals and six assists playing a limited role in 42 games – before taking advantage of more playing time this season.
He is now fully adjusted to the city as well, although he is quick to point out that the north Okanagan town has always felt familiar. His dad grew up there, and his grandparents, aunt and uncle live there still; Beckner lives with his aunt and uncle during the hockey season.
“We’d come up here to the lake every summer and hang out with our family,” he said. “With my family here, it’s made the change so easy.”
His next big move – aside from heading back home to Victoria during the offseason – will be to Colorado, although his start time there is still to be determined. In the meantime, Beckner, who is also ranked by NHL Central Scouting for the 2023 Entry Draft, is focusing on the rest of the season with the Silverbacks.
“We’re a very close-knit group, a pretty mature team, and I just want to win a championship here. I think we have all the pieces to make a good run,” he said.