By Brian Gilroy
Swan Valley Star & Times
Ask most any minor hockey player in the Swan River Valley if they’d like to one day don the jersey of the Swan Valley Stampeders junior hockey club and you would get a resounding “yes” for an answer.
For most, a dream is all it will ever be. But for some, like Josh Tripp, living out that dream in front of family and friends has been something he will cherish long after his junior hockey days are over.
As a kid growing up watching Stampeder hockey, the now 20-year-old Tripp isn’t taking anything for granted as the Stampeders prepare for the upcoming MJHL playoffs.
“Getting to play in my hometown has been a blast,” he said. “It’s nice getting to play in front of my family and in front of people who have known me my whole life.”
Tripp has followed his hometown team as far back as he can remember. And as playoff pressure amps up, he wouldn’t want it any other way.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “You can feel the energy around town towards the Stamps changing and people are really excited. I remember one of the years the team made it to the second round and the rink was wild and the thought of possibly getting to play in front of a crowd like that gives me goose bumps.”
As if just getting to play for his hometown team wasn’t enough, the 5’8” forward has taken the MJHL by storm this season and was the first Stampeder to win the league scoring title.
To top it all off, Tripp was also recently named the MJHL’s most valuable player, an award he definitely deserved after the season he’s put up.
“I am happy with the year, and I was super excited to find out that I won – there were other great players nominated,” said Tripp. “It’s a huge honour, and I owe a lot to my teammates that I play with. They’ve helped me get into good spots to get points this year.”
As he closes in on the end of his four year junior career, Tripp says the experience he has gained is a big reason for the individual success he’s having this season.
“This is my fourth year of junior hockey and I knew what I had to do to prepare for the season… I knew what to expect,” he said. “Another thing is my teammates. Most nights it’s not hard to get points when you’re playing with guys like (Bradly) Goethals, (Brian) Harris, and (Matt) Osadick.”
While Tripp spent a season and a bit in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) with the Corpus Christi IceRays, he always knew he wanted to end up back in a Stampeder uniform to end his junior career. He even headed down to the NAHL this past fall but was back in time for the start of the regular season.
“At the beginning of this season I thought it might be best for me to try playing one more season in the states for a bit more college exposure,” he said.
“But, when it came down to it, in my heart I just wanted to be a Stampeder for my last year. There’s no place like home, especially when you get to play junior hockey as a hometown kid in a small town.”
Naturally, Tripp feels the Stamps have a very good chance at making a long playoff run and who can argue? The Stampeders finished with a 42-13-3-2 record and secured home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs against the seventh place Dauphin Kings.
But, how far they go remains to be seen.
“We have a winning record against almost every team this year and we’ll have confidence going into a series no matter who we play,” said Tripp.
Going back in time, Tripp was a dominant player the day his minor hockey career began. He learned to skate before he picked up a hockey stick and that has definitely given Tripp an edge on the competition from a young age.
Looking back fondly over his early years learning to play, and dominate, the game of hockey, Tripp has plenty of memories but a couple do stand out from years gone by.
“Winning gold at the 2011 Pee Wee AA Provincials in Thompson was an awesome experience,” he said. “Another thing was winning an all-expenses paid trip to Buffalo that same year to watch some of the World Junior Hockey Championships”.
While the above two memories were a lot of fun, Tripp added that a late season, second year Atom tournament might take the cake.
After entering a tournament in Grand Forks the year before, such a great experience led to the desire to go back the following year to try their luck. Low and behold, the young Valley players brought home the championship trophy, coming out on top of the 20 plus team tournament of mostly American competition.
“The Grand Forks championship was at the top of my minor hockey career for sure,” said Tripp.
As Tripp continued to dominate the competition, he found himself playing hockey nearly 10 months of the year. Summer hockey teams had him playing in tournaments across the continent.
“I remember in Pee Wee summer hockey, the team I was playing with went to a tournament in Las Vegas,” added Tripp. “I’m pretty sure we lost every game but it was a fun time for sure.”
While he admits to feeling some emotions now that his junior career is winding down, Tripp’s doing his best to focus on the present.
“There is some sadness for sure because, no matter how far we make it, I know I only have about two-and-a-half months left of junior,” Tripp said. “But the excitement heading into the playoffs definitely overpowers that. We have a real shot at making a deep run and I can’t wait to get started.”
Tripp may not want to look too far ahead but he knows he has a goal of continuing his hockey career by the time next fall rolls around. He isn’t ready to announce just where yet, but rest assured it’s in the works.
“I want to be playing at the university level,” he said. “I’m not sure where yet but I’m weighing my options at the moment. Hopefully I’ll be able to make a decision in the next little while.”
So, with the MJHL playoffs set to begin on March 8, the Stampeders hope to see the crowds continue to grow. And for Tripp, he has a message to those that are casual fans or those that haven’t ever been to a game.
“Get out to a game – even if it’s only one game,” he said.
“Every fan in the stands makes a difference. Even if you missed every regular season game, the playoffs are a totally new season and the games only get more exciting.”
If anyone knows what he’s talking about, it’s a young man who’s been watching, and waiting his entire life for this moment.
The Tripp Files:
150 regular season games played
7 playoff games
Favourite Stampeder of all-time: Ian Lowe and Stephan Vigier