Chicago Blackhawks prospect Sam Jardine of Lacombe put an exclamation mark on an eventful week Wednesday when he signed his letter of intent to play with Ohio State University, beginning next season.
Just three days earlier, Jardine skated to the top of the world as he captained Canada West to victory in the World Junior A Challenge at Langley, B.C.
The Camrose Kodiaks’ defenceman was a second-year member of Canada West, which defeated Canada East 4-2 in Sunday night’s gold-medal game.
“It was the funnest two weeks of my life,” Jardine, 18, said Wednesday night from Camrose.
“When you’re able to fill a house (Langley Events Centre) with 5,000 people screaming, ‘Go Canada Go,’ and you’re in that environment, there’s nothing minor about that tournament. The talent level of all the teams that were there was incredible. And you look at the former alumni of the tournament that are in the NHL now, it’s really quite impressive, especially since the tournament is only six or seven years in longevity.”
Jardine, who played bantam AAA, minor midget AAA and midget AAA in Red Deer before joining Camrose of the Alberta Junior Hockey League last season, has seen both sides of the World Junior A Challenge.
“The first year that I was at the World Junior A, we ended up finishing in fourth place, and I was incredibly disappointed with how we finished in that tournament,” he said.
“It was a situation this year, coming into the tournament, that we needed to get redemption. Any outside distractions, whether it be scouts or something (else), was going to be a non-factor for me. I just wanted to lead by example that way and make sure it was team-everything and everybody’s No. 1 goal was winning a gold medal, first and foremost.”
At the same time, those team-first traits translate into top marks on the lists of pro and college scouts. Jardine already has both of those bases covered, with his NCAA commitment to Ohio State and his NHL draft selection last June, when Chicago made him a sixth-round pick.
He was under the microscope in Langley, nonetheless, with Blackhawks chief amateur scout Bruce Franklin tracking the prospect’s progress.
“I have a pretty close relationship with Bruce Franklin,” Jardine said. “He came out to the tournament and I got to talk to him after. He was real happy for me and proud of the way I was able to play, so that was a big thrill for me.”
Franklin warmed up to Jardine during an elimination game last spring at the RBC Cup, which Camrose hosted.
“I know Bruce likes to tell the story about how I caught his eye,” Jardine said. “It was on a five-on-three penalty kill. I got caught out there a little long, as (the opposition) had us hemmed in, and he was really impressed with my battle and my compete (level) and my willingness to not allow them to score. A second-effort type of player.
“I do consider myself skilled, as a good skater and a good puck-handler, with pretty good vision from the back end. But the thing I always pride myself in is my compete and my work ethic. Moving forward, that’s what’s going to get me to the next level.”
Jardine, almost six-foot-two and 195 pounds, moved a step closer to that next level this week when he formalized his plans to attend Ohio State.
“They had a couple of guys out watching (the tournament) as well, and were incredibly happy,” Jardine said of the Division 1 Buckeyes.
“Now, I’m just trying to recruit some of my (Canada West) teammates to come to Ohio State with me, because we had some really talented players that I’d love to spend the next four years with in Ohio.”
Jardine has his own scouting report on NCAA hockey. His brother Clayton, the Camrose captain last season, is a freshman forward with the Merrimack College Warriors.
“He’s having a blast and Merrimack is the second-ranked team in the (NCAA),” Sam said of Clayton.
The Jardines’ parents, Ted and Lynne, and younger sister Naomi witnessed Sam’s gold-medal performance after returning from a Boston trip to watch Clayton.
“It was a great week for my family,” said Ted, a school principal. “We went from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It all worked out where we were able to see both boys play.
“From a parental standpoint, (the World Junior A Challenge) was a chance of a lifetime to see your kid accept the gold medal. It was a very neat experience to be there with my wife and my daughter and watch Sam.”
Sam jumped right back into AJHL action Tuesday night with the Kodiaks, but his memories of the Langley tournament remain fresh.
“It was an absolute thrill and one of the best experiences of my life, being able to go up and accept that trophy for our team,” he said.
“I’m just so thankful for everything I was able to go through with my teammates and our coaches. It was such an incredible high, and at the same time, even sad that it was over. We may not see all of those guys together in the same room again. After spending so much time with them and becoming so close with them, it makes a guy a little bit sad, actually.”
John MacNeil is the editor of the Stettler Independent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org