For most young hockey players growing up in the Okanagan, the dream of one day playing in the Western Hockey League (WHL) extends only as far as the nets in their street hockey games, but for a select few, that dream will one day become a reality.
On April 22, four Bantam AAA Okanagan Rockets were selected in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft.
Nathan Gossoo was one of them. He led the Rockets in points, tallying 25 goals and 18 assists in 30 games. And while the 15-year-old West Kelowna native doesn’t lack confidence, he was humbled when he had his name called by the Prince Albert Raiders with the 169th pick.
“I had a thought that I’d be drafted and some people told me that I would, but it wasn’t 100 per cent” said Gosso.
“Seeing my name selected was super exciting, not knowing for sure that it was going to happen.”
While being drafted is the first step to becoming a WHL player, Gossoo recognizes the challenge of cracking a talented Prince Albert roster that most recently competed for the Memorial Cup in 2019. But Gossoo is no stranger to overcoming perseverance. Just last year, he was cut from the South Zone Knights.
“Lasy year I was cut from the zone team mostly because I couldn’t play physical enough,” said Gossoo.
“I was really weak, but this year in the offseason I got my strength up so this year I could come into tryouts and just be physical and keep the puck. My training helped me a lot this year.”
Gossoo plays a big-fast-mean game, often taking the puck to the net to create scoring chances. He also prides himself on his defensive game, digging pucks out of corners to help his defenceman transition up ice.
His teammates aren’t too shabby either. Okanagan Rockets forward Lian Gayfer went toe-to-toe in team scoring with Gossoo all year. Gayfer would win the league goal title, edging out Gossoo with 27 tallies, while Gossoo finished with the most points.
Gayfer, from Kamloops, B.C., was also selected in the Bantam draft, taken 149th overall by the Medicine Hat Tigers.
“(Gayfer) never takes a shift off,” said Gossoo.
“He goes full-speed 100 per cent of the time. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with him. He can score from anywhere and in the defensive zone, he can skate the puck out himself. He’s a fast player who likes to play physical.”
Two Rockets defenceman were also selected. West Kelowna’s Dante Nunes was taken 154th overall by the Portland Winterhawks, while Kelowna’s Luke Schraeder was taken 175th overall by the Everett Silvertips.
“Schraeder is a defensive defenceman, but when he gets his chances he’ll make something out of it,” said Gossoo.
“He’s physical, not super big but he can play big. On the other hand, Nunes is a real offensive defenceman. He can rush the puck, he shoots and scores a lot. When he gets a chance to jump up in the rush lookout.”
The Okanagan Rockets were placed 1st in the BCBHL with a record of 28-1-0-1 before the season came to an abrupt end due to COVID-19. Gossoo attributes much of the team’s success to coaching, stating head coach Jason Beckett was great for team structure as well as player development.
“The coaches were a huge help,” said Gossoo.
“We were always learning new systems and new stuff. There aren’t many teams to play against, so if a team was starting to figure out our game plan we would change it so they couldn’t figure us out.”
The four draftees will look to continue their development with the Major Midget Rockets next season and capture a championship they lost out on this season.