Five seasons removed from playing in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) for the Virden Oil Capitals, Zach Whitecloud has earned himself a full-time spot on the Vegas Golden Knights in the National Hockey League (NHL).
In his two seasons with the Oil Caps’, Whitecloud suited up in 118 games where he excelled on the ice and earned himself an MJHL second-team All-Star nod.
His play secured himself an NCAA Division I scholarship to play for the Bemidji State Beavers for two seasons before leaving college early to sign with Vegas in the NHL as an undrafted free agent.
“Playing in the MJHL and specifically in Virden provided me with the opportunity to work on my game in an environment that had all the resources I needed to improve my game,” Whitecloud said. “Whether it was the arena staff providing me with ice at 7:30 AM before a team practice to work on individual things, the gym at the arena, the video coaching, the community aspects, and most importantly, the billet system.”
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of a lot of people, but my billets in Virden in Jack and Karen Forster provided me with a home and a relationship that will last a lifetime. They were paramount in my development as a person first, which allowed me to develop at the arena. The Scharff family in Virden provided me with a job in junior. They introduced me to a passion for ranching and they are also my family away from hockey.”
After two seasons at Bemidji, Zach spent his first professional season in 2018-19 with the Chicago Wolves in the American Hockey League (AHL) where he and his teammates made their way to the Calder Cup Final where they came up short, losing 4-1 in the best-of-seven series to Charlotte.
Following a 35 game stint in the AHL during the 2019-20 season, Whitecloud earned a call up to the Golden Knights and didn’t look back, jumping into 16 NHL games where he collected one assist.
Not only did his play earn him a call up to the NHL, it impressed management in Vegas enough to go ahead and offer the 23-year-old a one-way, two-year contract extension to keep him in Vegas through the 2021-22 season.
The now former member of the Virden Oil Capitals also shared a piece of advice for young players in the MJHL who may not realize how valuable a role billet parents play in their development.
“Don’t take for granted what your billet family does for you, they make your life easy at home so you can perform at the arena and succeed. Without the Forster’s, the Scharff’s and my parents, I wouldn’t be doing what I love today without them. Meet as many people in the community as you can create long-lasting relationships and everything else will take care of itself on the ice,” Whitecloud concluded.