Flying to Alaska to play a pair of exhibition games against NCAA Division1 programs was a fun and valuable experience for 100 Mile House Wranglers alum Garrett Hilton.
Hilton plays in the B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League with the Simon Fraser University Red Leafs, and last weekend their program became the first BCIHL team to defeat an NCAA Division 1 program when they earned a 1-0 win against the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves. The Red Leafs, who also have another Kootenay International Junior Hockey League alum in Kyle Bergh (Princeton, Creston Valley and Castlegar), then lost 6-0 to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks. In that game, Hilton faced former Wranglers teammate Daniel Allin, who stopped all five shots he faced in a period of action. Allin played 10 games for the Wranglers in 2018-19 before making the jump to Junior A hockey.
“I knew how good he was in the KIJHL and then he went to the AJHL and had two good seasons,” said Hilton. “I kind of knew he was going to be hard to get past. It was fun, but it was one of those feelings like you’re going up against a guy that is hard to score on.”
Hilton, who put up 140 points in 135 career regular season KIJHL games, said the two games were a really good experience to see what the highest level of college is about.
“We saw how they conduct themselves off the ice and to be around that rink environment. You have to adjust to that pace of play and how quick those guys really are and how fast they move the puck,” he said.
The pace that the Seawolves and Nanooks play with and how the players read the game is something Hilton takes with him. The experience also gives him and the Red Leafs a level to strive for, especially because they will play the Seawolves and Nanooks in exhibition later in the season. Hilton learned the intensity they need to bring and things to work on, including being quicker in practice.
“It will allow us to play harder in our own league,” said Hilton, last season’s BCIHL co-MVP who enters his second season with SFU after transferring from Selkirk College. “I thought I played well and skated hard and competed in the battles. I just need to quicken my game and read and react better, and have better conditioning.”
The structure the Seawolves and Nanooks play with stood out with their quick, no-look passes, which comes from the players familiarity with each other.
“It’s more of a skill game than it is dump and chase hockey,” he said. “They play a lot of possession. They are very skilled at making those plays.”