Adam Sandstrom was all set to continue his hockey career close to home in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.
The 21-year-old Red Deer product, after finishing his final year in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, was ready to suit up with the NAIT Ooks, just up the road in Edmonton.
Until two weeks ago that was the plan when the defenceman got an unexpected call from the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, who play in the Ontario University Athletics U Sports conference.
“They lost a player to the pro leagues and they needed a D-man. It piqued my interest, obviously, they have a good coaching staff. They have a good program academically and hockey wise,” he said.
“The chance to live in Ottawa really appealed to me. Pretty easy decision in the end.”
The former Whitecourt Wolverines captain felt bad about reneging on his commitment to NAIT, but the opportunity to play at a higher level in Ottawa was too good to pass up.
“I’m excited, I’m nervous. At NAIT I knew quite a few people and it was close to home. Out there, it’s a fresh start. It will be a learning experience but it will be a good one,” he said.
The six-foot-three, 216-pound blueliner played four seasons in the AJHL and notched 85 points in 165 games. Last season, he put up 10 goals and 29 assists in 56 games with the Wolverines and was nominated for AJHL’s most outstanding defenceman award.
He was eventually recognized for his contributions off the ice as well, earning the league’s RBC Community Ambassador honour, for his volunteer work in Whitecourt. He said it’s just something the organization stressed since he arrived there two years ago and he was happy to help.
“In junior hockey at the end of the day, it’s all about the community and fan support. Because without them, you don’t have the opportunity to play,” he said.
“I loved giving back and helping out in the community. It meant a lot to me. It’s something that the owners and the coaching staff really wanted us to do. Our whole team was phenomenal with volunteering.”
Of course, like most hockey teams across the country, the Wolverines’ season was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic. His club had just taken out the Fort McMurray Oil Barons in the first round of the AJHL playoffs and was set for a second-round series against the Spruce Grove Saints.
“Within a couple of hours it was they were going to delay the series then suddenly, an hour later the season was cancelled. It was a shock, it went by really quick,” he said.
Sandstrom knows his experience from the AJHL will be valuable next year in Ottawa, but he also understands that he’ll be lining up against guys that are bigger, strong faster and by in large, 3-4 years older than him.
He also reached out to fellow Red Deer Minor Hockey product Ryan Vandervlis, who suited up for the Concordia University Stingers last year, who play in the same conference was the Gee-Gees.
Even with those challenges ahead, Sandstrom can’t wait to prove himself.
“It’s quicker. A bunch of older guys so it’ll be a lot of stronger players. I talked to Ryan Vandervlis who plays in the same league and he gave me a heads up about what to expect,” he said.
“I think I’ll be ready for it.”