In a huge off-season when it comes to his future as a hockey player, Bleackley’s hockey efforts were abruptly put on hold when his hometown of High River was devastated by June’s massive floods.
Thankfully for Bleackley, he and his family made it through the traumatic experience relatively unscathed compared with many others.
“We got all of our valuable stuff out of the basement but it was devastating to see the rest of the damage in and around High River,” Bleackley told me over the phone today. “All the houses on our street, some of the families won’t be able to recover from the flood which is sad to see. We were fortunate that all we lost was some stuff and that everyone was out ok and all my friends and family were not hurt.”
|Pic from Conner's Twitter account |
@Bleacks9 - June 20
Bleackley admits the flood has created plenty of adversity but says he’s getting through it one day at a time. “It’s the support that everyone has received from surrounding communities that is great to see. It puts a smile on everyone’s faces in High River.”
As his family and the rest of High River’s residents move forward with their recovery efforts, Conner Bleackley moves forward with his attempt to represent his country. Bleackley, along with Rebels teammate Haydn Fleury, is one of 42 players invited to try out for Canada’s entry at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament, August 5-10. The selection camp takes place Friday through Monday in Toronto.
Bleackley has donned the maple leaf before as he was a member of Team Pacific at last year’s World U-17 Challenge. But with this being a tryout for Team Canada Bleackley admits that the stakes, and nerves, involved are much higher.
“Especially in the last few days I’ve been getting really nervous,” Bleackley admitted. “It’s just kind of setting in that I’m trying out to represent my country. That’s something you dream of as a kid. Nerves are definitely beginning to set in.”
For a guy who seemingly never lacks confidence on or off the ice, it says a lot that Bleackley says he is nervous heading into the selection camp. That being said, he feels that he is well-prepared to do his best and earn a spot on the Team Canada roster.
“I feel good. I think about all the preparation I’ve put into it and I think I’ve done everything I can to be ready. Obviously, with the flood, it’s been a bit tougher but I feel I’m in the best shape of my life going into camp. So, hopefully that shows.”
Bleackley has managed to find some valuable time on the ice as he recently attended his third camp hosted by his agency, CAA Sports, in Los Angeles. With players from North America and Europe taking part, Bleackley says the camp has helped him work on his skills and take them to the next level.
When it comes to this week’s Team Canada U-18 camp, Conner says he’ll enjoy having Fleury along for the ride. It’s the start of what will be a huge year for the pair who will both be NHL Entry Draft eligible in 2014. “He and I are both on the draft radar so it’ll be up to us to stay on that radar and maybe even improve our positioning.”
Conner’s excitement extends not only to his chance to play for Canada but also to his club team. Bleackley is well aware of the buzz surrounding his Red Deer Rebels and is anxious to get going with the 2013-14 WHL season.
“Yeah, we lost some key aspects to our team in Turner [Elson] and Brandon [Underwood] and [Jordan] DePape and maybe Matty [Dumba]. But everyone else is a year older after being a younger team last year. The future is really bright in Red Deer. This year is gonna be a huge year for us. Especially with Patty [Bartosak] back. He was the best goalie in the league last year and probably is not going to be beat this year. It’ll be really exciting to see what this team can do this year.”
As for his role, Bleackley knows the Rebels will not only count on him for more scoring in his second full season, but also more leadership.
“That’s something me and Brent have discussed. It’s a challenge that I really want to take on. I’m only 17, still a young guy on the team, but I’ve played a lot of games and it’s [leadership] something that I really want to take on this year.”