It’s hard to remember how he got from there to here.
How Ryan Howse got from fresh-faced newbie to grizzled veteran and all-time Chilliwack Bruins point leader.
As much as seasons seem to drag on, time truly flies in the Western Hockey League.
And here we are.
Howse is probably 26 regular season games (plus playoffs) away from leaving Chilliwack to begin his professional hockey career.
He surpassed Oscar Moller as the all-time franchise leader in goals last year, and moved past Mark Santorelli on the points list last week.
More and more, he finds himself stopping to consider what an amazing ride it has been.
“It literally gives me chills thinking about it, and I’ll miss it when it’s over,” Howse admitted. “The experiences I’ve had and friendships I’ve made are things I’ll never forget and I hope this season drags on as long as it can.”
That Howse should end up where he’s ended up would come as little surprise to anyone who’s watched him live.
There’s an argument to be made that he is the best pure sniper this franchise has ever had, even better than Moller.
“Oscar was a great player and a great person and the main thing I remember is the kind of guy he was in the room,” Howse said. “And what kind of mentor he was, to have him sitting beside me for a couple of years, it was truly amazing to watch him play and see the things he did.”
It took a while to track down Santorelli, who set himself well above his pursuers when he left Chilliwack. Santorelli ended his Bruins career with a WHL scoring title in 2007-08, accumulating an astounding amount of points (183) in a very short time (144 games played).
“He was just an amazing player and that says it all right there,” Howse said. “He had 82 points his first year and 101 the next, and that says a lot about what he was able to do out there. It’s an honour just to be mentioned with Mark and Oscar.”
Particularly when you consider the career trajectory that Howse followed. For the longest time, there were some serious doubts about the Prince George native’s ability to succeed.
He was Chilliwack’s first ever draft pick, taken third overall in the 2006 WHL bantam draft.
In his first 55 regular season games he was good but not great, recording 10 goals and 18 points — underwhelming stuff for Bruins fans not used to watching the development cycle of 16 to 20 year olds.
He was consistently snubbed by Hockey Canada and had a reputation as a defensively deficient player who took the occasional shift off.
More worrisome, Howse seemed to have a knack for picking up injuries.
Even in his breakout season of 2008-09, when he scored 31 goals, Howse missed 11 games.
But at the same time Howse started to tap into his immense offensive potential, he also started to silence the doubters.
He played all 72 games last year, and hit career highs in goals (47) and points (72). He earned the trust of new coach Marc Habscheid, who started using him on the penalty kill.
His attention to two-way hockey got him back into the good graces of Hockey Canada, earning him an invite to a World Junior team evaluation camp in the summer, and the selection camp in December.
Along the the way, he started sounding like a guy who gets that it won’t be the highlight-reel snipes that keep the paycheques coming at the pro level.
“The main goal in the end is winning,” he said. “They could take all my goals and assists back if it meant we won, and I’d be fine with that.”
Next season, whether he’s in the WHL, American Hockey League, or skating with the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames, Howse knows his records won’t last forever.
Kevin Sundher is likely to break the points one before he’s done, and some young sniper will eventually come along to take away the goals mark.
“I’m sure I’ll get a text message if he (Sundher) breaks it,” Howse laughed. “But records are made to be broken, and whoever breaks it will deserve it.”