Cole Fonstad knows firsthand what it’s like to be part of a losing hockey team.
He’s not a fan of it.
As a 16-year-old, Fonstad played last year for the Prince Albert Raiders in what was a disappointing, forgettable season for the organization. The club finished with a dismal record of 21-44-5-2, putting them well outside of a playoff spot and deep into the league’s basement.
“It was tough for sure,” Fonstad said. “It was tough on all of us.
“Losing that many games is not fun, you kind of get sick of it.”
As bad as the year was for the team as a whole, the experience could, in a roundabout way, turn out to be a positive thing in the end for Fonstad.
The native of Estevan, SK showed promise as a WHL rookie in 2016-17, putting up 26 points in 69 games. He got better and better as the season waged on, and as a member of a thin, young forward group, he had the room to steadily work his way into a bigger role with his club.
Watching Fonstad now, it’s clear that he took those opportunities and used them as a springboard to launch into this season. The now-17-year-old has been a serious difference-maker for the Raiders, picking up 41 points in 34 games so far, the most among all first-time-eligible WHLers.
More importantly to Fonstad, however, his team has an improved record of 13-14-5-2 to start 2017-18 and is firmly in the early hurt for a playoff spot.
“Every day we came to the rink we still expected to win, we still worked hard,” Fonstad said. “We didn’t just throw in the towel or anything. Coming in to this year we had a young group and we knew what that feeling was like, to lose all the time, and we don’t want that again.
“Moving on this year and the coming years we want to be a winning team and eventually be a championship team.”
Fonstad, 53rd in Future Considerations’ Fall ranking, is certainly doing his part.
The 5-foot-10, 162-pound left wing is a fixture on Prince Albert’s top line and has formed fantastic chemistry with Winnipeg Jets prospect Jordy Stallard and Ottawa Senators prospect Parker Kelly — a trio that does the brunt of the team’s scoring, both at even strength and on the power play..
Being relied upon so heavily to produce offense, night in and night out, seems like a lot to ask of a 17-year-old in a tough league, but Fonstad welcomes the amount of responsibility that is placed on him.
“I don’t really see it as pressure, I see it as opportunity,” he said. “Not many kids get this opportunity at this age, so I’m just trying to make the most of it, trying to do what the coaches ask of me and make the right plays.”
A cerebral thinker with soft hands and pinpoint-accurate passing, Fonstad does his best work when setting up his linemates for chances.
Thirty of his 41 points are assists, 13 of which have come with the man-advantage.
“I’m more of a playmaker,” Fonstad said. “I’m patient with the puck and I see the ice pretty well. I can make those little passes to find my linemates.”
He has always had plenty of skill, as evidenced by the Raiders taking him fifth overall in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft after potting 67 points in 29 games for the Estevan Bruins in Bantam AA.
But he’s still acutely aware of what he needs to keep working on to get his game ready for the professional leagues.
“I think I just have to get stronger, get faster, harder on pucks, win my battles on the boards and in the corners. I think that’s what’s going to take me to the next level. I think the game well enough, I just need to get bigger, stronger, faster and play harder.”
For now, though, he’s taking things day-by-day and working towards a more immediate goal.
Redemption from last season, for himself, the Raiders and their fans.
“I want to make a playoff push for our team,” Fonstad said.
“I think Prince Albert deserves playoff hockey again.”