PHOTO: Jack Murray
With the 2019/20 season coming to a close, we will take a look at each of the six 20-year-olds on the Vees roster and look back on their junior hockey careers. Next up: defenseman Nico Somerville.
“First thing that comes to mind is that it was the fastest year of my life,” says Nico Somerville about his 20-year-old season as he concludes his junior hockey career with exactly 250 games played split between the regular season and playoffs, “I remember when I was 16, all of the 20-year-olds would say it goes by fast and to cherish every moment and I think that’s something that players overlook and brush it off but it’s true. It’s like you blink and it’s your last season of junior hockey and you feel like you’re a bit rushed to cherish those moments.”
The Port Alberni, BC native played all of his junior hockey on Vancouver Island before a midseason trade to Penticton saw him change scenery for the first time in his career. Somerville started in Junior ‘B’ with the Victoria Cougars of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL), where the defender won a league championship as a 15-year-old and played in the Cyclone Taylor Cup, the provincial national championship in the Junior ‘B’ circuit. Following that, Somerville made the move to Junior ‘A’ to suit up for the Victoria Grizzlies, a team in which he played four seasons and over 180 games with.
For the first time in his career, Somerville skated for a different BCHL team than the Grizzlies after the Vees acquired the defender in late November of this past season, “The decision to ask for a trade from Victoria was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” commented Somerville, “I was there for four years and that organization gave a lot for me and I gave a lot for them but my biggest goal in my final season was winning a championship.”
“I wanted to go to a team that I felt had a really good chance of winning and making a good playoff push and the first team that came to mind was Penticton,” continued Somerville, “I found out the trade was official right after a game and once I got to Penticton about a day or two after that, it was everything I wanted. Everyone was so welcoming and it’s a such a special place to play and will be something I will hold in my heart.”
The 5’10, 180-pound rearguard played in his first game with the Vees on November 29th in Merritt and remembers the drive up to the South Okanagan after being traded, “I still remember driving up on the Coquihalla and thinking to myself, ‘holy, I’m really going to Penticton’,” stated Somerville, “Growing up, seeing Penticton was like an NHL team to me so to finally be able to put that jersey on was pretty special. My first game in Merritt, I looked over to Darwin (Lakoduk) and said ‘this is actually happening’, I couldn’t believe it. The whole experience in Penticton, for me, is probably the highlight of my junior career.”
Soon after Somerville arrived, the Vees started to pick up steam and with a good month of December followed by a terrific January, dropping just one game before concluding the regular season on a hot stretch of play, “As soon as I got here, I could tell the vibe in the locker room was a winning one,” mentioned Somerville,”I felt that was something that would carry us far and it did for the most part. I truly believe that if the season wasn’t cut short, we would have made a good run for a Fred Page Cup and National Championship.”
Somerville has had the privilege of being part of some special teams in his junior career while playing for the Grizzlies and this year’s Vees squad ranked high up there in his career, “A couple of my years in Victoria, we made it to the second and third round and I felt we had that with this group as well,” Somerville said, “This team was, by far, the most skilled team I have ever played on. There was different ways we would win with our defense scoring goals and coming from behind to win games.”
“There must have been three or four games where we were down going into the last minute and came back to tie it up and win in overtime,” Somerville continued, “There was no worry whatsoever in the locker room and on the bench. To me, that really sticks out in my mind and is something I hadn’t really experienced before with other teams and this Penticton team is the best one I have played on in the BCHL.”
Those late comebacks were a big part of the Vees success this season and having a veteran team that had seen it all played a factor into not panicking late in hockey games, “That’s something that Fred preached to us this season is to come into the locker room after a period and reset and refocus,” commented Somerville, “Even if we had a good period, we would come back into the room and know we had what it takes to come from behind or hold a lead. Us having an older group with our 20-year-olds and 19-year-olds really showed in our play.”
Something Somerville worked very hard for in his junior was to secure a collegiate future and he did so while in Victoria, committing to American International College (AIC) and now has a chance to look ahead to starting a new chapter in his life and hockey future, “It took a little bit of time, about two or three weeks to comprehend what just happened with our season,” said Somerville, “But I’ve got my sights set on AIC and being a factor and contributor in that lineup.”
“I couldn’t be more excited to get out there and they have a really good track record these past couple of years,” Somerville continued, “I’m excited to bring the things that Fred taught us and what I learned in Penticton and incorporate that into the college level.”
The Vees would like to thank Nico for everything he did in a Vees jersey and for his contributions to the City of Penticton and South Okanagan!