His time in the Red Deer minor hockey system was brief, but profitable.
Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman Dallas Valentine, whose family farm is located between Pine Lake and Lousana, played one season of bantam AAA hockey in Camrose before sticking closer to home and suiting up with the minor midget AAA (elite 15-year-old) Red Deer IROC Chiefs in the 2011-12 season.
It was a season in which he emerged as a player with major junior potential. The Warriors saw something special in Valentine and placed him on their 50-man protected list in the spring of 2012.
“It was a pretty exciting year,” Valentine reminisced while visiting the Centrium with the Warriors last weekend for a Saturday night date with the Red Deer Rebels. “We had a really successful team that season, we won basically everything. It was a good group of guys, a good team and it was a fun time for me.”
Valentine credited then-IROC head coach Tom Bast for bringing out the best in each of his players.
“He believed in all of us and picked our team based on chemistry and skill,” said Valentine. “The other 15-year-old team (the Red Deer Northstar Chiefs, whom IROC defeated in the provincial final) had probably a better lineup on paper but we had some good players and some good chemistry and we made it work.
“It was a good year for us as individuals and from a team standpoint.”
Valentine tried out for the midget AAA Red Deer Optimist Chiefs the following season as a 16-year-old, but was cut and hooked up with the midget AAA Leduc Oil Kings, collecting a goal and two points in 26 games. He also played 13 games with the Warriors that season, recording a single assist and four minutes in penalties.
He emerged as a Warriors regular last winter, scoring three goals and recording 14 points in 69 games. His game improved to the point where he was ranked 109th by Central Scouting for the 2014 NHL entry draft.
The six-foot-three, 195-pound rearguard was eventually passed over in the draft, but earned a free-agent invitation to the New York Rangers training camp in September.
“It was a good experience down there,” said Valentine. “I had a lot of fun. I was down there for about two and half weeks and it was very productive for me to see what the pace is like at that level and how much further I have to go to get there.
“Before I returned to Moose Jaw I was told by the Rangers that they would stay in touch with me this season and just to keep working hard and developing.”
Valentine describes himself as “more of a defensive D-man than offensive, and for now I’m just trying to be a little more consistent with my game. I try not to do too much, but at the same time I try to get in on the offence a bit too.
“I’ve gotten lots of opportunities with this team over the past two years and I’ve really taken advantage of that to improve my game. I’m thankful for that.”
The Warriors’ second-year defenceman gives high marks to new bench boss Tim Hunter, a former NHL player and assistant coach.
“He’s a great coach. Everyone has his role on the team and he plays the guys who are going to do the job,” said Valentine. “He’s a real team coach and that’s going to be good for us this season.”
The Warriors embarked on a three-game winning streak in early October but gradually cooled off and currently sit fourth in the East Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference with a 6-8-0-1 record.
The club missed the playoffs last spring, but Valentine is convinced the post-season will be within reach this season.
“We have a good team this year, there’s really no excuse for us to not make the playoffs,” he said.
“There are some good teams in our division, but any team can beat any other team this season just by working hard. The secret for us is to stick to our game plan and keep improving every game.
“We have a pretty fast team this year. We’re good at chipping pucks out, getting pucks deep and getting in on the forecheck. That’s what we do best.”
While Valentine wasn’t selected in this year’s NHL draft, he could still be picked in 2015. For major junior players striving to one day earn a pro contract, every season is more important than the last.
If the 18-year-old blueliner doesn’t get that cherished play-for-pay pact, he’ll take advantage of the WHL scholarship program, which supplies graduating players with one year of books and tuition at a college/university of their choice for each season they’ve played in the league.
“Every year is just another year of getting older and closer to moving on with my life,” Valentine mused. “I really have to take something out of my time in Moose Jaw and see if I can get something out of hockey. If not, I’ll use my scholarship and go to school and move on that way.
“Either way, my time in Moose Jaw is going to be valuable.”