Trail Smoke Eaters defenceman Garrett Valk was born in October of 2002, which happened to also be the final season his father Garry would play in the NHL. Garry wrapped up a 13-year NHL career at the conclusion of the 2002-2003 season, which he spent with the Chicago Blackhawks and their AHL affiliate the Norfolk Admirals.
Because he was a newborn, Garrett missed out on the chance to spend time at the rink with his dad while he was still playing, something that many children of NHL players point to as a highlight of their childhood.
Although he would have loved to have brought his son around to meet his teammates and just hang out in the room, Garry also appreciates the benefit of having stepped away from the game while Garrett was still so young.
“I got to enjoy his whole hockey career, right from when he started skating at two years old at the North Shore Winter Club, all the way up to today when I get to spend time with him on the ice when we have the opportunity,” said Garry. “That’s been the plus side of it. You can enjoy every phase of his career.”
Garry not only got to watch his son play, he coached him as well, as a volunteer coach with the North Shore Winter Club.
“What I loved about Garrett is that, even when he was younger, he was always a great listener,” he said. “He was very in tune. He was very easy to coach. That’s what probably helped him get to the next step of playing junior hockey in one of the best junior leagues in the world. He’s a student of the game.”
It’s sometimes difficult for kids when their parent is the coach of the team. Other parents are highly-sensitive to any preferential treatment the coach’s kid may get compared to the rest of the team, but according to Garrett, that was never an issue for them.
“He had no problem benching me if I screwed up or took too long of a shift,” said Garrett. “He’s got a lot of knowledge around the sport of hockey. He definitely helped me become the player I am today, so I’m very grateful for that.”
Garry broke into the NHL as a rookie with the Vancouver Canucks in 1990, where he spent the first three seasons of his professional career. After that, he played with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and that final season in Chicago.
Despite only playing three years with the Canucks, he made Vancouver his home after retiring and eventually became an analyst for Sportsnet Pacific, covering his former team.
For Garry, the highlight of his post-NHL career was covering the Canucks 2011 playoff run where him and longtime Vancouver sports broadcaster Don Taylor setup shop outside of what was then called GM Place for pre- and post-game shows for Sportsnet.
Garrett may not have been able to experience his dad’s playing days in person, but this was something he was not going to miss.
“There were thousands and thousands of people behind their set and watching outside the building,” said Garrett. “I was pretty fortunate that I got to be on the frontlines of that. After they were done doing the post-game or pre-game stuff, I got to go up on the stage and throw a couple Sportsnet things down into the crowd. It was a cool experience.”
Before the analyst job and the NHL career, Garry was in a similar position that Garret finds himself now. Garry played three seasons of Junior A hockey with the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) in the mid 1980s. After putting up 86 points in 59 games in his final AJHL season, he was drafted by the Canucks in the sixth round of the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. A few months later, he headed to the University of North Dakota where he would spend another three years before turning pro.
Garrett is currently in his second year of Junior A after playing his rookie season with the Chilliwack Chiefs last year. His hope is to also get that NCAA Div. I scholarship and continue on to play professional hockey.
“I’m looking to follow the same path as he did,” said Garrett. “It’s a lot of kids dreams to play NCAA hockey and eventually move on to play pro hockey. I think NCAA hockey is the best route to take to play pro. Starting off in the BCHL, it’s arguably the best junior league in the world, so I couldn’t be in a better position than I am now to reach my goals.”
Now that his son is a full-time BCHL player, Garry is no longer Garrett’s coach, but has taken on an arguably more important role in his hockey career.
“He doesn’t need me anymore for that,” said Garry. “I don’t coach him at all, as far as what he should be doing on the ice. I have more of a support role now. You can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen, so I offer more general support now for him. If he asks me a specific question, I try to answer it, but I just enjoy getting to watch him play everyday.”
For Garrett, having someone like his dad just a phone call away is important to him. Not only as his father, but also as someone who has already experienced everything he has as a player and everything he hopes to experience in the future.
“It helps a lot, knowing he’s gone through all the stuff I’ve gone through,” said Garrett. “He’s faced the ups and downs of being a hockey player. He’s a big part of being my emotional support.”