Some players have exciting or emotional stories to tell when they recount their experiences on WHL Bantam Draft day.
For Keenan Taphorn, his was one of conflicting emotion.
The 15-year-old forward was going through a regular day at Yorkton Regional High School. When the Kootenay Ice made him their top pick at the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, Taphorn was sitting comfortably in computer class and watched as his name popped up on the screen.
“I was stoked. I was very happy,” Taphorn said Tuesday afternoon over the phone.
Though Taphorn’s initial reaction on draft day was one of excitement, his joy was quickly turned on its head when he was separated from twin brother, Kaeden, as the Vancouver Giants claimed him in the third round (47th overall) of 2015 WHL Bantam Draft.
“I was devastated,” Taphorn said. “I was watching and saw that Kootenay was nine picks up. I was crossing my fingers he wouldn’t be chosen [before the Ice selected 56th overall in the third round]. But seeing the Giants take him, I was really devastated.
“We’ve played together our whole lives. It wasn’t a great moment.”
For now, the Taphorn twins find themselves on opposite sides of British Columbia in terms of the Western Hockey League, but Keenan is hopeful there might be some magic in the works to bring the two together before they have to face-off against one another on a WHL playing surface.
“Hopefully we can get something happening here and get us to play together again,” Taphorn said.
For now, only Keenan Taphorn is property of the Kootenay Ice and director of scouting Garnet Kazuik characterized him as “a typical Kootenay Ice player” coming from a winning tradition.
Growing up in Yorkton, a community of 15,669 located approximately 190 km northeast of Regina, Taphorn spent his 2014-15 season with the Yorkton UTC Bantam ‘AA’ Terriers.
The Terriers went 30-1-0, finishing first in the Saskatchewan Bantam ‘AA’ Hockey League’s (SBAAHL) South Division, before claiming the SBAAHL playoff title.
If that isn’t enough of a winning pedigree to associate with Taphorn, how about the fact he idolizes NHL goal-scoring speedster and Stanley Cup champion Jeff Carter?
“That just shows you how smart he is right there,” said Graham Garrett, Taphorn’s coach with the Terriers, over the phone Wednesday afternoon. “He’s kind of got that tall, lanky stature…The shooting, the speed, the right shot — [Jeff Carter is] a good guy for him to emulate. That’s the type of player he is.
“He’s been great to coach. He’s got a really excellent skill set, listens well and understands what’s being taught and expected by the coaching staff. He’s a good teammate. He was a leader in the dressing room. Even though he’s quiet, he leads well on the ice.”
At 6-feet and 157 pounds, Taphorn has room to grow, but at a young age, he already fills a frame much like the 6-foot-4, 209-pound Los Angeles Kings’ sensation.
After tacking up 30 goals and 76 points through 24 games in his second season with the Yorkton UCT Terriers, the soft-spoken Saskatchewan boy is doing his best to model his game after his NHL idol as well.
“I’d describe myself as a physical forward who likes to create plays off the rush,” Taphorn said. “At the same time, [I] can shut down the other team’s top lines.”
As a 15-year-old, Taphorn won’t get his first crack at shutting down the WHL’s best until the 2016-17 season at the earliest. With a wave of youth about to crash down on Cranbrook this season, the newest member of the Kootenay Ice might just get that opportunity when he first becomes eligible.
“It’s a huge jump,” Taphorn said. “You’ve just got to keep on working at it every day. Just try to improve. Get stronger and faster in all the aspects of the game. At the end of the day, just give it your all and try to get one step closer to playing in the WHL.
“The last couple years, I’ve realized I want to go the WHL route. It’s something I really want to do. We’ll see what the future holds here and hopefully I can play in the WHL one day.”
Those are welcome words for Kootenay Ice fans, who watched helplessly as 2014 first-round pick Griffin Mendel committed to the BCHL’s Penticton Vees recently.
Taphorn is set to suit up alongside his brother with the Saskatchewan Hockey Association’s U-16 Summer Camp squad, featuring 42 of the province’s top second-year bantam players.
The Taphorns represent two of the top 24 forwards in their age group in Saskatchewan with their naming to the roster.
After that, he will visit Cranbrook for the first time when Kootenay Ice training camp rolls around in August 2015.
“I heard it’s a beautiful city down there,” Taphorn said. “We’ll see what the future holds.”
Taphorn will spend the 2015-16 season at home in Yorkton, where he is expected to suit up for the Yorkton Midget ‘AAA’ Maulers, once again under the tutelage of Garrett.
“I look forward to that and we’ll work on some more of his physical development as well as his mental preparation for games and his understanding of how the game needs to be played at the WHL level,” Garrett said.
“Whoever coaches him [in Cranbrook], he’ll be a pleasure to coach. He’ll add to the ability of the team to be successful.”