Bowers content with USHL path

Aaron Vickers2017 Draft Center, Features, NCAA, USHL

Shane Bowers bounced the name Sam Gagner when prompted with the trivia question.

He need not guess anymore though.

He’s the answer after becoming the last Canadian 16-year-old to play in the United States Hockey League in 2015-16, opting against the more traditional major junior route in order to keep his college eligibility.

“The decision happened last year,” said Bowers, who was drafted both fourth overall by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the QMJHL Entry Draft, and 38th overall by the Waterloo Black Hawks  in the USHL Futures Draft in 2015. “I was drafted into the Q and I decided I just wanted to keep my options open. I wasn’t set on the school route or major junior yet. We decided to head to Waterloo and it worked out great for me.

“I didn’t want to close any doors too early. I was only 16. Once I was in the Q, I would be there for the next however many years. This keeps my options open. I can decide where I want to go and what’s going to be best for me and which situation will fit.”

It’s a modest assessment.

Gagner, who eventually opted to join London of the Ontario Hockey League after a one-year stint with the Sioux City Muskateers, recorded 11 goals and 46 points as a USHL freshman over a decade ago.

Bowers, after getting a special release from Hockey Canada to play outside his province on a non-CHL team, scored 15 times and added 18 assists in 56 games with Waterloo, and was named to the league’s all-rookie second team.

It was a successful jump for the then 16-year-old.

“Anytime you move up in a level of hockey there is always adjustments,” said Bowers, 27th in Future Considerations’ preliminary ranking for the 2017 NHL Draft. “For me last year, it was really the speed of the game and physicality. Coming from midget, you’re one of the bigger and faster guys, and you jump up a year to junior and now there’s 20-year-olds out there who are fully-grown men. The speed and the physicality was a huge adjustment for me. I think that took a little while but once I got used to it I fit in really well.”

Such a fit, in fact, that Bowers plans on returning for a second season.

“Right now I’m leaning more towards college,” said Bowers, who was released by Cape Breton, and drafted by the Saint John Sea Dogs 32nd overall in 2016. “I was exposed to it all year down there. It seems like a good fit for me and my body type. I’m not a huge guy. I think it would give me some time to put on some weight. I think it’s a fast game and it’s how I want to play. I’m heading back to Waterloo.

“But who knows what could happen next June. The option is always open to head back to junior.”

Next June, of course, is Bowers’ draft day.

At this point, it’ll be a fruitful day.

He’s tagged as a potential first round pick, and another strong season in Waterloo will only re-enforce that.

Not that Bowers is paying significant attention to that fact with 10 months of hockey to go.

He is projected as a first rounder, after all.

“I’m not looking for it, but I mean, you’re obviously going to see the rankings through family or friends, or your buddies or teammates,” he said. “It’s going to be the talk of the locker room. It’s hard to avoid, but you’re not going to put too much attention into it because at the end of the day, it’s what the team that drafts you thinks about you. It gets out either way. If you’re seeking it or not, you’re going to hear about it.”

But make no mistake.

It’ll be in the back of Bowers’ mind throughout the year.

“You definitely think about it,” he said. “When the season comes around you’re going to focus on playing hockey and bringing your best every night and what happens, happens. The best that you can perform and show yourself, the better, but you still need to be a team player. You have to just play your game no matter who is in the building and let things happen from there.”