By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
To say Reilly Funk has had an exceptional couple of months is the textbook definition of the word “understatement”.
The 18-year-old Portage la Prairie native has really come into his own this season. Entering the second week of January he was second in team scoring with 15 goals and 40 points in just 30 games – this despite missing a good chunk of the month of December to play in the World Junior A Challenge with Team West.
“It was an honour for me to get an invite to try out at the camp in Calgary, and after it was over and I was told I made the team, I was a bit speechless,” said Funk. “And then getting to put on the Team Canada jersey – you dream about that as a kid.”
“The tournament was an unbelievable experience, and I got to play a different role on the fourth line than the one I play here,” he added. “It was a tough tournament, though it didn’t go the way we wanted it to. But overall, (winning the bronze medal) was something I’ll never forget.”
For an encore, Funk was one of two MJHL players invited to play in the CJHL Prospects Game in Okotoks, AB, on January 22. This highly-scouted event, which is run in partnership with the National Hockey League and Hockey Canada, as well as in conjunction with NHL Central Scouting, brings together the top junior A draft-eligible talent for one night, with the eyes of the hockey world fixated on the talent on the ice.
“I got back from Bonnyville (host site of the World Junior A Challenge), and then was told I was going to Okotoks,” he said. “There’s going to be so many scouts and schools there, it’s going to be pretty cool.”
“I am pretty nervous, but I plan to put my skates on one at a time, and hope to play my best.”
All of his success this season follows a season where Funk had to take a step back before he could leap forward. Funk was reassigned to the Central Plains Capitals last year at the Dec. 1 roster deadline after putting up only two goals and four assists in 20 games on a fairly deep Portage roster.
He responded by putting up an incredible 61 points in just 26 games with the Capitals. He truly used his time back in midget AAA to improve his game – and the Terriers are enjoying the benefits of that this season.
“I wasn’t doing great, and I knew I was a bubble player,” says Funk. “At the time, it wasn’t the greatest feeling – you never want to be sent back.”
“But it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me in my hockey career,” he added. “I got to go back and touch the puck a lot more, and played my game and got a lot more confidence.”
Funk adds playing on his home-town junior team was always something he dreamed about.
“You grow up watching the Portage Terriers, and they win all these championships and an RBC Cup back in 2015,” says Funk. “You want to be a part of that as a kid.”
“I wouldn’t say there’s more pressure, but there are more eyes on you because you are a local kid,” added Funk. “And we haven’t really been on the downside this year, so let’s keep the winning up – it’s been a fun year.”
And speaking of the RBC Cup, Funk is in an excellent position to be a key member of the Terriers next season when they once again host the RBC Cup.
“The national championship is coming here next year – that’s something I never even thought about last year,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. It makes you want to work harder.”
“I think if we can go really far this year, that will give us a lot of experience for next year, when we’ll really need it.”
And if all goes well, Funk will continue to not only work towards championships and appearing in prospect games, but using those platforms to lock down a Division 1 NCAA scholarship.