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Former BCHLer Pope gets dream chance with Canucks

Almost every kid grows up dreaming about the chance to play for their hometown hockey team and that dream came one step closer to becoming a reality on a Thursday afternoon in June for Matt Pope. The 24-year-old, a product of the Langley Minor Hockey Association and former member of the Junior A Langley Hornets, signed a two-way contract with the Vancouver Canucks.

“There were a few teams interested, but the Canucks, I was hoping they were going to make me a good offer,” Pope said by phone as he was on his way to Los Angeles.

He was flying to California before returning to Langley in order to pick up items he left behind after playing for the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors. Pope went from Bakersfield to the American Hockey League, first with Binghamton and then the Manitoba Moose, the top farm team of the Canucks. Pope said he was just hoping he was not in a position where he had to choose between money and playing for the Canucks organization.

It has been a whirlwind season for the first year pro. After graduating from Minnesota’s Bemidji State University, Pope was not sure where his hockey path would take him.

“At the end of the school year, I was just hoping to sign a professional contract at any level and now I am signing one at the best level possible,” he said. “It is pretty crazy.”

Pope was unsure when the Canucks would be announcing the signing. But he had spoken with someone in the organization’s player development department.

“He told me he was really impressed with my play here (in Winnipeg) and that I was taking advantage of the opportunity that I got,” Pope said. “He said that I had opened up a lot of eyes, and that I have got all of the key aspects to be an NHL player.”

Pope, a winger, played 54 games at the ECHL level, and finished with 30 goals and 33 assists. He was named to the rookie all-star team. He split a dozen regular season games between Binghamton and Manitoba (on an AHL tryout contract) and managed four goals and four assists. Pope got into a dozen playoff games with the Moose, scoring three goals and three assists, as Manitoba came within two games of winning the Calder Cup, the league’s top honour. Pope said that AHL experience will be invaluable going into next season.

“Especially the playoff run, that is about as intense as you can get,” he said. “It was such a grind and such hard hockey. Teams are fighting for their season. That (experience) alone is huge going into the training camp and next season.”

Pope is unable to train for the next few weeks as he recovers from an injury he attempted to play through in the playoffs. Then the real work begins.

“It's going to be weird having such a short summer,” he said. “Once those two weeks are over, I have to go as hard as possible and catch up to everyone who has been working out already.”

He has a Canucks rookie development camp in three weeks time and then will join the team’s main training camp in September. The two-way contract means he will be paid an NHL salary if he is playing for Vancouver and an AHL salary if he suits up for the Moose.