It didn’t take long for Nate Danielson to realize he wasn’t at your typical summer hockey camp.
Danielson, 16, was one of 45 players across the country invited to Hockey Canada’s U18 11-day Summer Development Camp at the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex, just outside of Calgary.
The Red Deer teen said the camp was competitive right off the jump and it helped motivate him for the upcoming WHL season.
“The biggest thing for me was the compete level of everyone there. We learned a lot. It was a good 10 days of development with Hockey Canada, getting ready for the season with Brandon,” said the Brandon Wheat Kings centre.
“I didn’t think it was going to be like that. The games were super competitive, everyone wanted to win. It wasn’t like a normal scrimmage, everyone was out there to win.”
The easy highlight came for Danielson as the under-18 portion of the camp was winding down, when he notched a pair of goals in an inter-squad game, including the game-winning goal.
“It felt good, obviously helped the confidence going into the next game with the U20s. When you’re scoring and the pucks going in your having lots of fun,” he said.
That was a springboard into perhaps the most fascinating part of camp, where a select group of U18 players were mixed in with some of Canada’s national junior team hopefuls.
Danielson played in two of those games and had another assist skating alongside several first-round NHL Draft picks, including Medicine Hat Tigers forward Cole Sillinger.
“It was a great experience to practice and play with those guys. See what they do and how they prepare – how they compete and play… so that was a great experience to be able to learn from them,” he said.
The six-foot, 170-pound centre still has a lot of growth and development to come, but he has jammed a lot of those lessons in the past 12 months.
From the uncertainty of a WHL season last year, to a bubble in Regina with 24 games crammed in a short span and two weeks with Canada’s top junior players, it’s been a lot to take in.
While he was productive in his WHL rookie season, with three goals and 12 assists in 24 games as a 16-year-old, it was a challenge. He thinks that will make him better in the long run.
“It was a good year, it was nice to be able to have a season. A lot of people didn’t. It wasn’t the ideal circumstances, being in Regina and playing in a bubble,” he said.
“I thought it was a really good experience and it sort of helped living with each other, it was easier to get to know everyone… this year it’s going to be sort of a relief not playing every second day. It helps that I’m pretty close with a lot of guys on the team, excited for the year.”
When the hard times came, Danielson knew exactly who to call. His older brother Noah, who was in his third season with the Tigers and has been a huge influence on the 2023 NHL Draft prospect.
“Me and him are pretty tight. Especially the last couple of years when we haven’t been living with each other. It sort of built our relationship even more. We talk on a daily basis, see how things are going,” Nate said.
“He’s helped me a lot, with what to expect and the level of play the WHL is. He’s been really good to me.”
The brothers will likely spend the next month or so training together in Red Deer and trying to one-up one another on the golf course before they go their separate ways.
You can be sure that the Danielson family has Nov. 26 marked on the calendar, the first time the Danielson brothers will square off in the WHL, when the Wheat Kings welcome the Tigers to town.