Where has the time gone?
It seems like just yesterday when Danton Heinen was playing junior B hockey with the Richmond Sockeyes.
“Yesterday” was 2013.
That March, Heinen helped the Sockeyes win the Pacific Junior Hockey League title.
The clincher in the Sockeyes’ four-game sweep over the Aldergrove Kodiaks in the championship series came inside tiny Aldergrove Arena.
Fast forward three-and-a-half years, and Heinen is playing in the world’s greatest hockey league, with one of the NHL’s most storied franchises.
Langley’s own Heinen is, officially, a Boston Bruin.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Heinen told the Advance last Thursday afternoon (Oct. 13), just hours before the Bruins’ season opener in Columbus against the Blue Jackets. “It’s not too long ago that I was playing junior B, but I always dreamt of playing in the NHL. I always thought I could do it. For the day to finally be here, it’s super exciting.”
The NHL is the pinnacle for any hockey player.
Heinen knows that.
But he wasn’t going to let butterflies get the better of him, even with his parents Rick and Veronica and his brother and two sisters in the rink to watch his debut.
“The big difference is, guys are bigger and stronger, and from the nerves side, I’m definitely going to be nervous there,” Heinen said, before the game against the Blue Jackets. “But once the game starts, it’s another hockey game.”
Having his family there to cheer him on was a big thrill for Heinen: “I love having them here. They are a big reason why I’m here.”
In three games thus far with the Bruins, Heinen is pointless with two penalty minutes (a minor for hooking versus Columbus), and an even plus-minus rating.
A Langley Minor Hockey alum who was selected in the fourth round, 116th overall by the Bruins in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Heinen impressed the B’s brass enough that he’s wearing the historic black and gold sweater to start the season.
In fact, he’s been playing on the line with Bruins assistant captain David Krejci, who led the NHL in post-season scoring in both 2011 (the year the Bruins won the Stanley Cup) and ’13.
Playing for the Bruins was a goal Heinen set right after he was drafted.
“My goal is definitely to play in the NHL, and play for the Bruins,” Heinen said, after the 2014 draft.
It’s been a lightning fast track to the NHL for the 21-year-old Heinen, who rocketed up the Bruins’ prospect chart and is now one of the team’s top young hopefuls.
He spent a year of junior A with the Surrey Eagles before graduating to the NCAA Div. 1 ranks with the University of Denver Pioneers.
He led the Pioneers in scoring as both a freshman and a sophomore, racking up 93 points in 81 games over two seasons.
Also, last season, Heinen made his pro debut with the Bruins’ farm team in Providence, recording two assists in two regular season games. And he made two playoff appearances with the ‘Baby B’s.’
The individual awards he collected in 2014-15 are a testament to Heinen’s development: NCHC Rookie of the Year; a member of the NCHC All-Rookie team; and part of the conference’s second all-star team in his freshmen season.
This, a year after he filled his mantle with B.C. Hockey League awards including Most Sportsmanlike Player and Rookie of the Year.
In his final year in Denver, Heinen earned first-team All-NCHC honours after recording 20 goals and 28 assists for 48 points, with a plus-19 rating in 41 games. He sparked the team to an NCAA Tournament berth for the second straight season, helping the Pioneers advance to the Frozen Four.
Now, he has to prove himself all over again.
Heinen knows what he has to do to stick with the Bruins.
“My goal is just to do whatever I can to help the team,” he said, “and do whatever they ask me to do.”
Heinen has starred in every level he’s played, but to stay in ‘The Show’ he has to be effective in all three zones.
“I want to be an all-around player,” he said. “I was an offensive guy in college and I think I can bring some of that here, but I’m going to try to play an all-around game.”
Helping him make the adjustment are world-class players Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Backes, and Zdeno Chara. Heinen said all the veterans have shown him what it takes to be a Bruin.
“No one in particular,” Heinen said, when asked what vet has helped guide him along.
“I think everybody has been really good to talk to about different things. They’ve all been super great. For sure, there are great players here who have played a long time. I learn a lot from watching them, every day.”