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BC Raised: Ridge Dawson

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Photo credit: Liz Wolter

Story by Matt Lawson

Ridge Dawson, a 20-year-old forward for the Trail Smoke Eaters, is currently enjoying a breakout season in the BCHL. The Kelowna product has 21 goals and 38 points through 48 games, which is already three times higher than his previous season-high total of 12.

Long before lacing up for the Smokies, Dawson enjoyed a hockey-filled childhood with his older brothers in Kelowna Minor Hockey. Notably, Dawson’s older brother Porter played the 2020-21 pod season with the West Kelowna Warriors.

“I started playing when I was quite young,” said Dawson. “I’m the youngest of three brothers. I’d say my dad had a big part of [our interest in hockey]. He was always working hard and he’d push us to do the same. I feel like that just kind of got me into an energetic mindset.”

Dawson tore up minor hockey and his skill was very quickly recognized. He was part of the top rep teams in Kelowna from Atom all the way through Bantam hockey. He even recalls playing against some current BCHL players in his later minor hockey years and remembers going head to head with guys like Prince George Spruce Kings forward Linden Makow during those years.

The next step in his career came when he was 16 years old and joined the Okanagan Hockey Academy, under the tutelage of head coach Craig Bedard, who is a well-regarded coach with BCHL, WHL and international coaching experience.

“I played there for three years,” said Dawson. “[Bedard] was a big part in my development. He really believed in me. I was one of the smaller, younger guys and he brought me on that prep team, knowing what I’m capable of and what I can bring to a team.”

Moving away from home at such a young age is a considerably challenging experience. Fortunately for Dawson, he found himself living with an incredible mentor in NHL legend Scott Niedermayer and his two sons Josh and Jackson. Jackson was a member of the Penticton Vees at the time, and proved to be another mentor for Dawson, while Josh would also play for the Vees shortly after.

“Being around [the Niedermayers] was a great help, just being able to pick Scott’s brain,” said Dawson. “He wasn’t much of a talker, but when he did, it was just telling me to keep things simple. You can’t worry about the little things that are out of your control.”

Niedermayer, the four-time Stanley Cup champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and James Norris Memorial Trophy winning blueliner helped Dawson develop his offensive skills from a defenceman’s point of view.

“He’d show you what kind of moves to do on the ice and how to make good deceptions against d-men,” he said. “He knew how to pick points, where to pass the puck and where to go when the d-man turned their heels.”

At 17, Dawson made the jump to the BCHL and aimed to follow in his older brother Porter’s footsteps by earning a scholarship.

“Just joining the BCHL, my main goal was definitely to get a scholarship, but I don’t think that’s anybody’s end goal in hockey,” he said. “They always want to continue and be the best. But joining junior hockey, earning a scholarship and going to Europe to play hockey was definitely my main goal.”

Dawson is enjoying a very productive season, but his recent form has been even better. The 2004-born forward has seven goals and 13 points in his last 10 contests.

“I’d say my linemates are a huge part [of my success],” he said. “I just have good chemistry with the two Stefanek brothers [Chase and Jason]. They’re two really skilled players and it’s just nice to find them on the ice.”

“They know where to get open and it’s easy to make plays with them. The chemistry between the three of us has really been the key for me this year.”

The Smoke Eaters currently sit fifth in the Interior Conference with a solid record of 25-19-6-0. According to Dawson, there is a lot of belief in the dressing room.

“We’re a strong group this year,” he said. “I’ve been here for two years and I have never seen a team so bought in and willing to do whatever it takes to win. I have a great belief in this team and I feel like we will go far this year.”

With a playoff spot clinched, Dawson is looking forward to his first taste of postseason action since his rookie campaign.

“I was playing through a couple of injuries last year and didn’t get to play in the playoffs,” he said. “I miss the energy and just the will to do whatever it takes to win and I think our team has a great shot at winning this thing this year. I think the little things that we need to bring are just the key details to our game, which is our forecheck, our speed and just that tenacity that we bring. No teams like playing against us because we’re just so hard on pucks.”

With just four games remaining in the 2023-24 regular season, Dawson will look to lead the Smokies on a deep playoff run and ideally come away with both a championship and a scholarship.