When you think of best friends that have played together on a hockey team, Jeff de Wit and Ryan Vandervlis probably wouldn’t be the first duo to come to mind.
“We work together, we spend almost every day in the summer together,” said de Wit. “We know each other really well. He’s not much of a friend, he’s like family.”
The two Red Deer, Alberta natives haven’t played together since they were 14 years old, back in their hometown as members of the Red Deer Rebels Black Bantam AAA. Seven years later, and 3600 km away from home, they are once again reunited as members of the Concordia Stingers.
Both players were looking for a fresh start and wanted to experience life outside of Alberta, figuring a new city and new experience would be good for them.
“If [Vandervlis] wanted to go to another school, it would’ve been something we had to talk about,” de Wit said. “But I knew for a while that moving away from Alberta would be the right decision for me.”
“I think there were five or six different schools that have reached out, but this is where I wanted to be,” said Vandervlis. “It’s so different out here. There’s a lot more European, a lot more culture.”
Head coach Marc-André Élement is excited about what de Wit will bring to the table, giving the rookie a large offensive role right from the get-go.
“He has a really good game,” said Élement. “He’s a big body, he’ll bring a huge netfront presence for us on the power play.”
De Wit played five seasons in the Western Hockey League (WHL), mostly for the Red Deer Rebels. He played for three teams in his second-to-last season and struggled to find his game, putting up 20 points in 43 combined games. After moving back to the Rebels and making changes to his off-season regimen, de Wit put up a career high 27 goals and 44 points.
The Concordia Stingers are the only school in Quebec to have players from the province of Alberta. The WHL is by no means an untapped market when it comes to recruiting, with most of their players playing in the Canada-West division. But with only four Alberta teams in the division and a load of talent to choose from in the WHL, spots on rosters are limited, so Élement decided to pounce on the opportunity.
“A lot of the schools say the same things to you, so it’s a feel-out process,” said de Wit. “One thing that made it better was [Élement] took time out of his life to fly out to Alberta to see some alumni but still made time to see me and Ryan. It was super nice of him, really personal and it really aided the process.”
The players are excited to play on the same team again. Vandervlis made his debut last Saturday night versus McGill; it was his first time playing competitive, contact hockey in over a year. In June 2018, Vandervlis was involved in a campfire accident where he ended up having approximately 50 per cent of his body burnt.
After the Stingers lost to the Carleton Ravens 2-0 on opening night, Élement decided it was time for Vandervlis to get into the action.
“It was a lot of fun, it’s been a long time coming,” said Vandervlis. “To finally get back out there was awesome.”
Before his accident, Vandervlis played in the WHL as well as a member of the Lethbridge Hurricanes. After struggling in the 2016/17 regular season, Vandervlis broke out in the playoffs scoring eight goals and putting up 14 points in 17 games. The following season was cut short but he still managed to put up 11 goals and 19 points in 19 games.
Last year, after waking up from a medically-induced coma and spending 11 weeks in the hospital, Vandervlis found himself back on the ice playing in the Heritage Junior B Hockey League (HJHL) as a member of the Red Deer Vipers. The 6’3, 212 pound centre was clearly one of the bigger talents in the league, putting up 21 points in nine regular season games, and 10 points in seven playoff games.
With stats like that, the Stingers may have very well found themselves a hidden gem. At first glance of his stats, its fairly evident that he is a big playoff performer. In his debut on Saturday night, Vandervlis looked like he did not skip a beat, slotting into the lineup on the second line and logging a good amount of ice-time.
“He’s an offensive guy so for sure he has to play on [a top] line,” said Élement. “He did a lot of the little things right. The game shape is gonna come, but [overall] he did really well.”
The two Albertans were not just brought in for their scoring abilities, though. De Wit said the best aspect of his game is that he’s a 200-foot player who has a nose for the net but can bring a physical presence when needed. Vandervlis says that his “Hockey IQ” is his greatest strength as it sets him up for success on both ends of the ice.
Vandervlis and de Wit were slotted together on the same line against McGill, but it remains unclear if they will be sticking together long term as they are both listed as centres. For now though, the two are enjoying playing together for the first time since their Bantam AAA day.
“In the summer time we talked about playing together [at Concordia] for a long time,” said de Wit. “It was super cool to see that come to life.”
Photos by Cecilia Piga