Despite difficult beginnings in his professional career, Carson Focht is looking ahead to the National Hockey League (NHL), after putting in hard work as a player in the Western Hockey League (WHL).
Focht’s passion for hockey began when he was just three years old — a long and rewarding journey was set ahead of him. Eventually finding a career in the WHL, he began facing some difficulties when he started playing with the Tri-City Americans. Focht was only scoring a few goals a season — a vast difference from his previous success in lower-level hockey.
“I just learned what it's like to be a rookie in this league and what it's like to struggle a bit and deal with some adversity,” said Focht. “I've always been a guy that put up points and was a big offensive threat, and I think I lost a bit of my game there. But I think just being able to overcome that and just knowing that I can deal with stuff like that is pretty big mentally for me.”
As a part of the Calgary Hitmen media team, and an avid observer, Alex Medina remarked that Focht had a lot to learn when he first joined.
“I remember him coming in as a 17-year-old a couple years back and he was still learning his game a bit. He was still a little unheralded. He was a first round pick in the WHL Bantam draft back in 2015 and there was a lot of hype around him, but he just couldn't really figure it out yet.”
Being thrown into a professional league at the age of 16, Focht discovered and became familiar with what professional hockey truly meant.
“Starting off my career in Tri-City… I just learned the ins and outs of the league, playing a longer game season... I just learned to deal with that,” said Focht.
Medina recognizes this created a problem for Focht, stating that, “Tri-City was such an older team so he wasn't getting that valuable ice time.”
Despite having a few difficult seasons, Focht said he would not change a thing.
“I've learned a lot,” said Focht. “When I was down, I learned from it. My successes, I also learned from it. So I don't think I would change anything and I think my journey is a tribute to who I am today.”
Even with a tough beginning in the WHL, Focht has recently made vast improvements in his game, as he currently sits in the top three goal scorers on his team. His improvement has come with his most recent team, the Calgary Hitmen.
“My experience with the Hitmen has been great, coming over two years ago,” said Focht. “It's just a total culture shock from what I was used to in the league…I've just been really fortunate to play [with] the Hitmen these last few years and I've gotten a lot of opportunities that I'm really grateful for and made a lot of new friends. I've really enjoyed my time in Calgary.”
Assistant coach Trent Cassan has also noticed Focht’s improvement, as he became a stronger player for the team.
“I think he's really developed that competitive game,” said Cassan. “You know, he's a pretty intense competitor and just overall, he takes a lot of pride in his faceoffs. He plays centre ice and has really done a good job of becoming a good penalty killer for us and played in all kinds of situations for us. So I think from when he got here at 17, he's matured a lot.”
Focht said in the current season, he has been working each day to get better.
“We always preach about putting in extra work around here.”
Medina commented on Focht’s hard work, stating that he has not only become a valuable player, but a leader to the team as well.
“I think it's going to be kind of taking more of that leadership role both on and off the ice. You know, being that guy to score the big goal when needed or being that vocal guy to get the guys going. I think that you'll see that more as the year progresses on and, especially for him, it's a good opportunity to kind of showcase what he's all about.”
Additionally, Cassan recognized Focht’s leadership, stating that the young athlete puts in hard work every time he steps out onto the ice.
“Like I said, you're going to get a consistent effort from him every night. He's a guy that does not like to lose and I think that that's important,” said Cassan. “Even in practice, he has a competitive spirit too. I think that that rubs off on other guys.”
Focht’s focus on the game has paid off, as he will soon be moving on to the big leagues: the NHL. Focht was drafted to the Vancouver Canucks, going 133rd overall during the fifth round and while he wasn’t at the draft, he said it was a “pretty surreal feeling” hearing the news in Calgary.
The young hockey player is excited about the opportunity, and described it as a “huge honour.”
“It was awesome,” he said. “I spent a few weeks in Vancouver, got to play a pre-season game and just to be around those pros and go through main camp was just a really big learning opportunity and I took a lot of stuff back here to Calgary.”
Focht faced a lot of competition when heading into the draft.
“I think I just like to use my speed a lot,” he said, when asked about what set him apart. “I feel like I see the ice pretty well. I like to find my line mates but I also like to shoot the puck. I like to be dynamic [and] be able to do everything.”
Medina points out Focht’s value, as he says the young athlete is an all-around player.
“He's a player that can really do it all… now as an older player, he's really good at all areas of the game — offensive [and] defense,” Medina explained. “And proof to that is when he was drafted by the Canucks and rightfully so, because he had a great year last year.”
Cassan says this is not the end for Focht’s improvement as there is a lot of work to put in before he begins his NHL career.
“You know there's a lot of responsibility. You forget how young they are sometimes but they also know how quickly they do have to mature as well,” he said. “ It’s one thing when you play junior hockey, and you're playing against 16, 17 and 18-year-olds. But there's quite a difference playing against developed men at 24 and 25.”
Despite the long journey ahead, Focht keeps his head in the game and continues to push now more than ever.
“I know the real work starts now,” he said.
- By Emma Boyne