Photo credit: Garrett James Photography
By Sheldon Lee
With the cancellation of the 2020 playoffs and a delayed start to the 2021 season, it was a long offseason of uncertainty for many BCHL players. This applies to perhaps for no one more than Mason Waite, the Prince George Spruce Kings defenceman who was faced with a sudden and serious health battle this past year.
“After last year’s season ended, I noticed something wasn’t feeling right,” said Waite. “So, I decided to go to the doctor and get checked out, and it turned out that I had testicular cancer.”
Preceding any cancer diagnosis, someone may feel a bevy of different signs that their body doesn’t feel right. This wasn’t really the case for Waite. It was an innocent comment he made to his buddies that ultimately resulted in him seeking a doctor.
“I actually didn’t have any symptoms,” said Waite. “My friends and I were playing video games at the time. I had gotten up and, while using the restroom, I discovered the bump. When I came back, I just kind of jokingly mentioned it to my friends and they said to me, ‘maybe you should go get that checked out.’”
Understandably the news brought on some nerves, but Waite felt somewhat blessed by the quick action to get him into the hospital and get the surgery taken care of.
“I was able to get in for surgery almost right away,” he said. “From diagnosis to surgery, it was about 14 hours. It all happened really fast.”
As it turned out, Waite knew another player who had experienced the same challenge as him, someone who was there to provide a little bit of guidance.
“Actually one of my teammates from two years prior had the exact same thing and he wound up needing chemotherapy,” said Waite. “He helped me through it. He told me the process as well as the possible outcomes. He was a huge help”
As were family and friends. There was no shortage of support.
“Everyone was super supportive,” he said. “My coaches, the GM, all my teammates and of course my family and friends back home. They were sending some food and tons of well wishes. It definitely made the whole thing easier.”
Every experience teaches you something different. One of this magnitude definitely provided Waite with some new-found perspective.
“You realize how quickly things can change,” he said. “It all happened in the blink of an eye for me and it’s like that with other families too. Don’t take anything for granted. Always keep in touch with family and never end a conversation on a poor note.”
Waite’s story of resilience and self awareness is one many people can learn from. The bottom line is, it is better to be proactive than reactive. Waite proved that, no matter what age you are, it is never a bad idea to get a check up if something just does not feel right.
As for the experience, it hasn’t slowed down Waite one iota on the ice. After a strong first season in the BCHL last year where he had 29 points in 51 games, Waite was determined to get even better this year, something he has definitely accomplished.
Heading into the final weekend of the season, Waite is operating at over a point per game with 16 in 15 contests.
Although he is having success this year, that doesn’t mean things have gone entirely smoothly for him and the rest of his team. After playing the majority of last season with the same defensive partner, graduated Spruce Kings defenceman Nick Bochen, due to some bumps and bruises on the roster this year, Waite has found himself playing with a few different players this season.
According to Waite, it is something he feels works just fine for the team.
“It usually takes a little bit of time to learn a player’s tendencies, but at the end of the day we all play the same system,” said Waite. “Through this pause especially, we’ve been switching it up a bit. We’ve lost some men up front this year, so partners will often get switched when you’re playing seven defencemen, but because we’re all on the same page, switching partners has never been particularly tough.”
You can definitely take him at his word. His 16 points leads all defencemen on his team and sees him tied for third among all BCHL blueliners. He is also a mainstay on the Spruce Kings powerplay, where he’s tallied eight points thus far, all while directing traffic and helping teammates find open space.
“I think as an older guy, I might be a little more confident with the puck, which allows me to make the right reads out on the ice,” said Waite. “The coaches do a really good job of laying out what needs to be done out there. I’ve got to give all the credit to the forwards though. I just get the puck to them and they make the magic happen.”
Such a humble response won’t surprise anyone around the team. Waite’s leadership and demeanor are surely two huge factors that went in to naming him the Spruce Kings captain this season, a role that he’s filled admirably.
“It was an exciting moment for me,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing you always think about as a hockey player. To get it as a 20-year-old is really exciting. Being one of the older guys and becoming a vocal presence in the room is something I felt I had to work on, not only for my team this year, but heading into university next year.”
Of course, to become captain, you need to stand out from the rest. You need to exhibit that willingness to go the extra mile and lead by example. When it came time to distribute the captaincy, Spruce Kings head coach Alex Evin had no qualms about giving Waite the ‘C’.
“He’s a good human being,” said Evin. “He values the team game and puts in the work on and off the ice,. He does all the right things and he treats everyone with respect. He’s battled adversity, shown resiliency and been a great fit for our team this year. He’s done a great job.”
The captaincy typically comes with a few more responsibilities. Being the one that many look to for answers can come with some added pressure. Waite doesn’t see it that way though. He has embraced it and still tries his best to keep things light with his teammates.
“I prepare for games the same way,” said Waite. “I still love to goof off with the guys and make sure things don’t get too tense in the room. I don’t feel like I’ve changed my approach to the game at all since becoming captain.”
With Waite’s final season in Prince George wrapping up shortly, a new challenge is on the horizon. Last summer, Waite secured a scholarship to St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. It is a new chapter in the young defenceman’s career and an opportunity he is excited to be a part of.
“It was super exciting to be able to commit over the summer, especially during such a weird year,” he said. “It definitely took a lot of stress off my shoulders, being able to lock in that scholarship. Prince George has helped me out a ton, they’ve turned me into a better defensive player and did a lot of reaching out to universities for me.”
Every student athlete that commits to a university is also faced with a few academic questions. Waite has some time to figure out his specific focus, but does have something in mind.
“I’m leaning towards business economics,” he said. “I haven’t been in school for a while, so we’ll see what sparks my interest.”
Fair enough. After all, Waite’s focus is still on the BCHL season. His Prince George Spruce Kings are in an all-out battle with the Chilliwack Chiefs for top spot in the Chilliwack Pod. With one point separating the two squads with just a couple games to go, it is understandable that his focus is elsewhere at the moment.
A bright young man with a bright future. A warrior on and off the ice and someone who possesses the drive and determination to truly succeed in all facets of life. The Spruce Kings know that and obviously St. Lawrence does as well.