ST. ADOLPHE — Owen Pickering has always known how to defy expectations.
When he was younger, his mother Dana worried that her eldest son, a violinist, hadn’t practiced enough. Apparently, these concerns were unfounded.
“I always thought, ‘Oh, he’s not prepared enough for this recital,’ and then he would stand out,” Dana recalls.
Pickering, 18, has been knocking it out of the park a lot lately.
Just over three years ago, he weighed 5-foot-7, 131 pounds and was a longtime contender for major-junior hockey, chosen in the ninth round of the WHL Prospects Draft by the Swift Current Broncos. .
CLASS OF ’22
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Perspective: D Owen Pickering
Hometown: St. Adolphe
2021-22 team: Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
WHL Draft: ninth round (177th overall) in 2019
NHL Central Scouting: ranked 15th (21st at mid-season) among North American skaters
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Perspective: D.Avery Pickering
Hometown: St. Adolphe
2021-22 team: Balmoral Hall Blazers (JWHL)
College commitment: Colgate University (2023-24)
Today, he’s one of the hottest players for the NHL Draft, a 6-foot-4, 179-pound defenseman who is expected to be picked in the first round on Thursday and that’s all before he’s taken. reached physical maturity. Growing pains, literally in Owen’s case, always cause him pain in his knees.
NHL talent evaluators, who have been busy trying to project what he could be in three or four years, were caught off guard when the slender Pickering made his debut in WHL Regina Center at the spring 2021.
Then, in the 2021-22 season, he continued to showcase his little man talents every night as the first blue double with the Broncos and then with Team Canada at the U18 World Championships.
Its stock has steadily increased.
“At the beginning of the year, I just wanted to get drafted,” said Owen, whose second cousin, Denton Mateychuk of Dominion City, is also likely to be picked in the first round. “I had no expectations. I came to Swift and just wanted to establish myself as a top defender and I got some confidence and got some good places in the lineup and then I been successful. I think I deserved that recognition, but it’s super special and honestly, still kind of surreal.”
Owen’s father, Tom, had no plans to produce an NHL prospect, but there were signs of special ability early on: skating ability and the ability to process information quickly.
“I would say to my wife, ‘Can you imagine it with 40 pounds?'” says Tom, an electrical engineer with Manitoba Hydro. “I could see his potential but I didn’t know what would come of it. I knew he was good. He was always a very smart player. He always thought the game was as good as anyone else.”
But for all of Owen’s talent and brains for the game, his sister Avery might be on the verge of matching or surpassing her success.
The 16-year-old could be the top female prospect to emerge from Manitoba in more than a decade after recently verbally committing to attend Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, on a scholarship hockey starting in 2023-24.
Avery had 24 NCAA Division I scholarship offers, including competing offers from Yale, Princeton and Ohio State to choose from.
Avery, a quick and physical 5-9 defenseman, will enter grade 12 in the fall with the Balmoral Hall Blazers.
The siblings (13-year-old brother Graeme is also an emerging talent) have an internal rivalry.
“(We’re) very competitive,” says Owen. “If she doesn’t want to read this, I’ll say she’s amazing. Watching her grow up, she’s always been really good and trained with me until a few summers ago we sometimes skated together and my my friends always tell me, ‘Your sister is better than you.’ I always get those comments.”
An outdoor skating rink occupying the entire backyard of their Saint-Adolphe home had played a major role, particularly during the most restrictive days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s a bit of compromise on both sides with my little brother and my older brother,” says Avery. “We’re all super competitive and it can overflow – annoying my parents sometimes – and that’s not helpful. But we pushed each other in so many different ways.
“When we have the ODR in the garden during the winters, we’ll just go out there and play away for that long. And that pushes us to develop. My little brother has been thrown into benches more than once of snow.”
While sibling duos in the NHL are almost too numerous to mention, the number of NHL players who have or have had sisters playing at the highest levels of the game are a smaller group.
Prominent members of this list include Boone and Brianne Jenner, Cammi and Tony Granato, and Phil and Amanda Kessel.
The Pickerings would like to join the club and Avery believes Colgate, highly regarded for its academics and women’s hockey program, is the place to do so.
“I was also looking for the best balance between studies and hockey because I also aspire to play for Team Canada and the Olympics, so I need a program to help me develop in terms of hockey”, says Avery.
That’s not to say the Pickerings are focused on hockey. Owen didn’t drop out of violin lessons until he moved to play in Swift Current while continuing to play elite baseball in the offseason. Avery and Graeme are also versatile.
“We’ve always been pretty realistic about life and we encourage our kids to follow their passions, but we also encourage them to stay in school because that path is unlikely to come to fruition, but over time it takes ( re-evaluate),” says Dana, a public health nurse in Winnipeg. “As a parent, you kind of have to be all-in.”
Avery, who like Owen is an exceptional student, plays baseball for a U15 AAA boys’ Carillon team while continuing her piano training. The self-taught guitarist started hockey at age four and played with and against boys until she transitioned to the women’s game at age 13, moving into the Rink Hockey Academy’s women’s program.
“With Avery, maybe it was a bit more obvious just because she stood out even among the boys,” Dana adds. “It was a really tough decision for us as a family (to switch to women’s hockey). When she finished peewee AA and when she was 13, she played in the spring with boys and she did really well and c It’s really with the best players in the province.”
Avery, who skipped 6th grade, is showing maturity beyond her years and she plans to be ready for the varsity game in 14 months.
“It’s kind of the first big step towards really elite level hockey and I’m really excited to go there and if nothing else, to see what the level is like and try to be the best. I can and try my best to fit in and see how I can try to excel,” she says.