From the left, Dawson Mercer, Kyle Petten and Zachary Bennett at St. John's International Airport earlier this week prior to leaving home to rejoin their resepctive junior hockey clubs.
BAY ROBERTS, NL — Three young hockey players from Conception Bay North are taking the next step towards playing the sport they love professionally.
Last week, Zachary Bennett, Dawson Mercer and Kyle Petten all found out they survived training camp and will suit up for their respective teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League when regular season action starts this fall.
Bennett and Mercer, cousins from Bay Roberts, have played with each other throughout their careers and now find themselves playing for the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Last season, they both played on the under-18 Bishop's College varsity team in Sherbrooke, Que. Final cuts to the Voltigeurs were made last Monday.
"The most overall excitement never came from just making the team — it was the fact we're going to be able to spend more time together," said Bennett. "We're going to be continuing our playing careers together, even longer. We've been raised like brothers since day one, so it's great that we're going to get to continue this far into our hockey career."
Petten, a 16-year-old centre from Coley's Point, will lace up his skates as a member of the Halifax Mooseheads. The team cut five players last Thursday to finalize its roster for 2017-18.
"Just before practice I found out about the full roster," Petten told The Compass Friday, having returned home for the long weekend. "I was pretty excited."
Mercer was a highly-touted prospect heading into camp. The 15-year-old centre (he turns 16 in Ocotober) was picked eighth overall in the 2017 entry draft.
"Last year, I was the youngest (player) too," Mercer said, adding that does not daunt him in the least bit.
Bennett, on the other hand, could be considered more of a surprise to make the team. The 17-year-old defenceman was picked in the 13th round of the 2017 draft, one year after he went unselected in the draft.
"It was a pretty great feeling, honestly," said Bennett. "Coming into camp, you're sort of the underdog making the team, so it felt great."
Bennett's alarm clock was set for noon Monday, but he received an early morning phone call telling him to head to the rink for 8:50 a.m.
"I honestly thought I was going to be told some bad news, and then they let me know I was on the team," he said, adding it was a nice way to start the day.
According to a news release, Petten "played his way onto the team after a strong training camp." He was selected in the sixth round of the 2017 QMJHL entry draft following a strong season with the Tri Pen Osprey of the Newfoundland and Labrador Major Midget Hockey League.
"I had a little meeting with the coaches before the practice, and they said they liked my consistency during the week and my battle effort and the way I play," said Petten, who will likely dress as a winger this season.
Mercer finds the atmosphere of playing for the Voltigeurs considerably different from what he's used to, particularly on the training side of things.
"Everything is there for you, and whatever you need done, the trainer is there to help you with physio and everything," said Mercer, who also likes the fact they can spend as much extra time on the ice as they need after practice if they want to work on specific skills.
"You're treated like pros in every sense of the way," added Bennett. "You're expected to act like pros as well."
All three players credit the work they put in over the summer with helping them make it through training camp. Bennett and Mercer both worked with Zachary's dad, coach and trainer Bo Bennett, while Petten trained with champion curler Mark Nichols.
Looking ahead to the upcoming season, Mercer hopes to contribute offensively as much as he can, though he acknowledges that will take some work given he's playing against larger, stronger opponents. Bennett is looking to improve his overall game and move up on the depth chart. Petten's plan is to work hard and keep playing the way he did in training camp.
"Just because I made the team doesn't mean I stop now. I just keep working my hardest," he said.