Written by Kyrsten Downton
For Cole Shepard, stepping onto an ice rink is like coming home for him. Unfortunately, the wait to return home for the 17-year-old’s upcoming season is going to be longer than usual.
As far back as Shepard can remember, hockey has been a huge part of Shepard and his family lives, as most of the family were involved in the sport. Shepard, who is from West Vancouver, began playing minor hockey in the Lower Mainland when he was about 4 years old. Like most kids with siblings, Shepard watched his older brother Jackson play hockey and wanted to follow suit. However, he began to build his own passion and love for the game.
“Ever since I was young, I loved it. I love being around the guys and the type of people in the hockey community. They are all just super down to earth. The game is just fun to play. I love the atmosphere of the games and helping your team win, whether it’s scoring goals or doing your job,” Shepard said.
Because of his passion for the game, Shepard became very determined to improve his skills at a very early age. Shepard said it was incredibly important to him to always putting his best foot forward and he credits his family for teaching him his hard work ethic.
“Some of the best advice I received is to really put in 110 percent effort and try to get 1 or 2 percent better in the rink. In the long run, all of that is going to add up. Your individual performance will get better by showing up to the rink every day and having a focussed-driven mindset,” he said.
All of Shepard’s hard work paid off in 2017 when he was drafted 33rd overall by his hometown team the Vancouver Giants in the WHL Bantam Draft. However, he spent the 2018-2019 season playing with the BCHL’s Penticton Vees and then last summer, Shepard was at a crossroads in his hockey career. He had to choose between joining the hockey program at Harvard University or signing with the Vancouver Giants.
“I decided that Vancouver was a spot I couldn’t turn down for my hockey career,” Shepard said. “Harvard’s hockey program is first-class with great people in it. But I had an opportunity to play at home with my brother on the team. [With] the ownership, the coaching staff, it’s just a place that knows how to win and I wanted to be apart of it.”
Choosing to play for the Vancouver Giants is a big step towards Shepard’s goal of becoming a professional hockey player. Unfortunately, Shepard has to wait until he can step on the rink in his new Vancouver Giants jersey. Earlier this summer, he underwent hip surgery to repair an injury that he had before his last season in Penticton.
“I always had pains; always had aches in my legs but I ended up playing the season through it. After the year, I got it looked at further and I ended up finding out I had a labral tear in my hip,” Shepard said.
Shepard is now about 4 months and 3 weeks since his surgery. Despite the long wait to return to the rink, the anticipation for Shepard’s return is mounting, for both himself and the fans. Last year, the Vancouver Giants made it to the WHL final, the first time since the 2006-2007 season.
Now, the team is expected to be one of the top contenders for the league and Shepard is anticipated to be one of the key players. However, he is just focussed on taking it one day at a time to ensure that he makes a full recovery.
“It’s obviously a struggle at times being hurt. It’s mentally and physically tough. But it makes you appreciate a lot of things a lot more. I think instead of pushing some things to the side, you understand what it’s like to be hurt. You understand you can’t cut corners because you don’t want to be hurt again. It’s super tough but I think it has made my work ethic go up and has humbled me as a person as well,” Shepard said.
Shepard is also not worried about cracking under the pressure of his highly anticipated return. He feels that pressure fuels him and makes him more determined as an athlete. For Shepard, he is just excited to get back out playing the game he loves with his family supporting him.
“They are there for me every step of the way. When it came to me making my decision to play for the Giants, they were pumped. They just said to follow my dreams and we will support you along the way,” Shepard said.
Shepard also continued to talk about the support he receives from his family on the ice with him: his teammates. Despite losing 4-2 in their home-opener, Shepard is excited about this season and knows that his team will do well.
“There is a good core group coming back. Through games, through success and ups and downs, the team comes together naturally and starts to have a family-like situation in the dressing room. Having a core group coming back and them welcoming all the new guys with open arms, helping us through everything, I think we mesh together really well,” he said.
Due to his injury, Shepard had to miss the home-opener on Friday, September 27 against the Portland Winterhawks. However, it seems that it will be soon that Shepard will return to the ice rink in a Vancouver Giants jersey.
This past week, he has been allowed to return to practice and is optimistic that it will be a matter of weeks before his return. But Shepard is still patient and not wanting to rush his return.
“It’s a process. You have to trust the people around you,” Shepard said.