Penticton and Agoura Hills, California are over 2,000 kilometres apart. But if you ask someone who has been to both places, like Henri Schreifels has, they certainly have their fair share of similarities.
“It was really surprising because it was very much just like California,” Schreifels said. “I guess Penticton has lakes and we have the ocean, but the weather was pretty much the same as it is down here.”
Schreifels was able to visit Penticton with his Anaheim Jr. Ducks teammates during training camp last season to get a taste of what the BCHL is about. He was even able to get into game action, suiting up for a pre-season game in West Kelowna August 23.
While he was held off the scoresheet that night, the 6’, 194-pound forward was held off the scoresheet just seven times during the 2017-18 season with the Ducks U18 team, finishing first in the Tier 1 Midget Hockey League with 56 points in 36 games. It was a major coming out party for Schreifels as he more than doubled his point total from the previous year while playing in the U16 league.
“I just felt really confident in my ability to produce,” he said. “I felt I was able to control and help lead the team, which helped give me confidence to put up points. I was expecting to put up a lot of points so by having good teammates to play with and being on a fun team, I think it was the most enjoyable year I’ve had of hockey.”
After leading his league in scoring, people may think Schreifels is a purely skilled player. But according to his own scouting report that’s not completely accurate.
“I would describe myself as a strong powerful forward that can play 200 feet,” he said. “I can create opportunities for my line mates and I’m pretty physical. I’ll finish my hits but I’m smart about when not to as well.”
Hockey in California has grown exponentially in the past few decades, beginning with Wayne Gretzky’s arrival in Los Angeles. While that was years before Schreifels was born, the surge has continued with the success of the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings over the past 15 years.
“California has been picking up a lot in hockey. I think the Kings winning the Stanley Cup played a big role in that,” Schreifels said. “I think that got a lot of people into hockey and excited about it. Now high schools are starting to have hockey teams. From when I started there’s been a steady increase in the amount of college commits and NHL draft picks. I think people are realizing California is a viable option and they can make it places by playing here.”
While the level of competition may not be at the level of the Minnesota’s or Michigan’s, the progression over the last 25 years is an indication there is a bright future for hockey in California.
Henri’s dad, Barry, has a long history as a swimming coach at both the club and college levels, so it should be no surprise athletics were a big part of Henri’s upbringing. He says he played nearly every sport except football and lacrosse while growing up, but gravitated toward hockey as it became clear his talent in it outweighed the other sports.
With a season like the one he had, there were teams lined up trying to get Schreifels to commit to their program. But his visit to Penticton months before made it a clear choice for Schreifels.
“I’ve always wanted to go play hockey in Canada,” Schreifels admitted. “I just feel the whole culture around the game is better. When I came up there I noticed the whole town was super excited about what was going on. They kind of live and die by the Vees so I just felt like that was a better environment for me than some other places where you aren’t the main attraction in the town.”
When speaking to Schreifels, someone may detect a slight French accent. While his father was born and raised in Red Deer, Alberta, his mom was born in Switzerland and spent her entire life there before moving to the United States. Schreifels has travelled to visit family in Switzerland many times, and also travelled around the United States during the season.
“In California we travel up to San Jose a couple times, and then we travelled six of seven times to different states,” Schreifels explained. “We travelled to Phoenix a couple times, the Mid West, out East. Nationals were held in Philadelphia this year. It’s a lot of travel, but it’s fun because we’re travelling as a team.”
Travelling as a team is something Schreifels will get used to during the 2018-19 season; the Vees put roughly 13,000 kilometres on the team bus over the course of last season. Bus travel is just one of the many adjustments Schreifels will have to make coming to the BCHL, but the soon-to-be 18 year old is ready for the challenges.
“I’m really looking forward to the schedule, having a ton of games,” Schreifels said. “Last year there wasn’t enough hockey. I want to play a lot of games and keep practising. That’s something Penticton and the BCHL does really well.”
Another thing the Vees do well is send players on to the NCAA, which is one of Schreifels’ main goals coming to the South Okanagan as an uncommitted player.