In more ways than one, Aldergrove is worlds apart from Anaheim, Calif., which Shea Theodore hopes will be his hockey home in the not-to-distance future.
But the Anaheim Ducksâ€™ first round selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft is happy to be home and living with his parents Cam and Corinne in small-town Aldergrove, a short commute away from Langley where Theodore trains during the off-season with Tim Prestonâ€™s Impact Hockey Development program.
â€œSheaâ€™s a driven athlete and has been since I started working with him, since he was about eight years old,â€ Preston said. â€œHeâ€™s a very gifted talent. His skill sets are pretty special. I definitely see him having the potential and the upside to play in NHL for a long time, for sure.â€
A smooth skating, skilled defenceman, Theodore relished an experience of a lifetime as the calendar flipped to 2015, taking a regular turn on the blueline while helping a stacked Team Canada win gold at the world junior championships.
Theodore described his time at the world juniors in Toronto and Montreal as â€œunbelievable.â€
â€œTo win gold there in Toronto was pretty hectic and crazy with all of the fans and the media, but it was definitely special,â€ he elaborated. â€œWe had an unreal team from all four lines and all seven of us d-men.â€
During the world juniors, Theodore paired with Edmonton Oilers prospect Darnell Nurse to play a â€œa shut-down role,â€ Theodore said.
The pair wasnâ€™t on the ice for a single even strength goal against during the tournament.
â€œWe were shutting down the top guys from around the world and I thought we did a pretty good job, and we ended up winning so it was good,â€ Theodore added.
Now, Theodore has his sights set on cracking the Ducksâ€™ lineup out of training camp and if that doesnâ€™t happen right away, heâ€™ll likely embark on his pro career with the Duckâ€™s new American Hockey League affiliate, the San Diego Gulls, as he works to earn a call-up.
Time is on his side.
Theodore turns 20 on Aug. 3, so heâ€™s hockeyâ€™s equivalent of a shiny new sports car with a couple of years to go on its warranty and only a few clicks on its odometer.
â€œI feel like Iâ€™ve made great strides playing in the Western [Hockey] League and down in Seattle,â€ said Theodore during his visit to the Brookswood Royal Bank branch as part of Saturdayâ€™s Summerfest community celebration. â€œPlaying there really helped my development from when I was 16 till my last year as a 19-year-old, so I think Iâ€™m ready to move up into the pro ranks and see how that goes.â€
After scoring 13 goals and 48 points in 43 games with the Seattle Thunderbirds, Theodore got a healthy sampling of pro hockey life with the Ducksâ€™ former farm team, the Norfolk Admirals, and acquitted himself well, scoring at a point-a-game pace with four goals and 11 points in nine games.
â€œIâ€™m looking forward to where it takes me next year,â€ he said. â€œYou never really know.â€
Heâ€™s spending his summer in Aldergrove, where he played all of his minor hockey up to the bantam A2 level before a year of Major Midget Hockey with the Fraser Valley Bruins.
â€œI still live with my parents,â€ Theodore said. â€œWhen I played in Seattle, I lived with a billet family down there, so Iâ€™m not quite ready to move out yet. Iâ€™ll be living on my own all of next year so weâ€™ll see what happens when I come back next year.â€
Theodore is unsure where heâ€™ll fit in with the Western Conference finalist Ducks, but knows itâ€™s going to be a steep learning curve, learning to be a pro and honing his craft.
â€œIf I can play some NHL games, then, hey, thatâ€™s good but if not then Iâ€™m still there working to get better,â€ Theodore said. â€œIâ€™m still pretty young so thereâ€™s really no rush at all.â€
Hirschfield a leader
Joining Theodore at Summerfest was Canadian Paralympic wheelchair rugby player Trevor Hirschfield, who grew up in Langley where he attended James Kennedy Elementary before moving to Vancouver Island when he was in Grade 8.
The 29-year-old Hirschfield helped Canada to a silver medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games and was a member of the bronze medal-winning national squads at the â€™06 world championships and â€™08 Paralympic Games in Beijing.
In 2013 he was named captain of the Canadian wheelchair rugby team and, outside of rugby, is working towards his marketing degree.
An auto accident when he was 16 left Hirschfield a quadriplegic, and he was first introduced to wheelchair rugby while going through rehab at G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre.
He was introduced to wheelchair rugby by BC Sports Hall of Fame inductee Duncan Campbell, who invented the sport in 1976 in a gym in Winnipeg.
In his former role as a recreation therapist at G.F. Strong, Campbell recruited and mentored an entire generation of B.C. wheelchair athletes, including Paralympians like Hirschfield and Ian Chan.
â€œDuncan Campbell was one of the rec therapists there at the time and he pushed me towards trying it,â€ Hirschfield said. â€œThe team contact sport is what kind of drew me in there. I was 16 so I didnâ€™t have a whole lot going on in my life that I had to worry about so I could focus on getting better and move on from there. Sport in general has been a huge reason I was able to move on. It gave me goals… and I was really able to really move on with my life pretty quickly without looking back.â€
Just how physical is wheelchair rugby? Itâ€™s called â€œmurderballâ€ for a reason.
â€œFull chair-on-chair contact is legal,â€ said Hirschfield, who says he gets knocked out of his chair â€œall the time.â€
Heâ€™s been with the Canadian Paralympic team since 2004.
His next goal is the Para-Pan Games this summer and if the Canadians wins gold there, they will automatically qualify for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.
â€“ Files from the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association website.