Hockey-mad Zary flourishing with Kamloops Blazers

Blazers' head coach Serge Lajoie: “He’s now developed an approach where it’s infectious. He brings that positive energy and that want-to-get-better attitude. It can honestly be a foundation and a cornerstone for this program for three, four years.”

Saskatoon Police Service officer Scott Zary might just be the force’s foremost expert on vandalism.

His son, Connor, a 17-year-old Kamloops Blazers’ forward, is a repeat offender.

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“I don’t know what’s been more expensive — the house repairs or his hockey,” Scott said with a laugh.

“Dad was getting tired of fixing windows. We put a net around the outdoor rink. He still somehow finds the little holes to put the puck through. Ever since he’s been three years old, he’s been on skates.

“You couldn’t get him off the ice.”

You still can’t.

“Usually, if I’m keeping my shifts short and I’m on the bench, it’s like, ‘Come on. I don’t want to be on this bench any more,’” Connor said. “I almost get antsy. I just want to get back out there.”

Added Blazers’ head coach Serge Lajoie: “I think sometimes you have to kick him out of the rink.”

Connor is experiencing the brightest patch of his young career, with five goals in his last two home games, including one hat trick and two game-winners. He has 52 points, including 18 goals, in 50 games this season.

“It’s nice to see him smile again,” Scott said. “I know at the start of the year he was going through some tough times and he wasn’t putting the puck in the net. We always tell him to stay humble and never quit.

“Now, when he calls, you can hear it in his voice. He’s back to where he wants to be and should be. On the ice, you can see he’s happy.”

Most players who reach the WHL love the game. They don’t all breathe it. Connor has lived it since he first strapped on skates.

Grandpa Gary Sherdahl’s shins must have taken a beating. He would often lean on his walker during the inevitable game of mini-sticks.

“I think that ball and stick was with Connor from Day 1,” Scott said, noting Grandma Sherdahl is quick to call her grandson when he appears to be struggling.

Connor quickly became a student of the game.

“The running joke was he could name any stick any pro hockey player used,” Scott said. “One of his friends said, ‘Hey, Connor. [Jonathan] Quick broke his goalie stick. I bet you can’t tell me …’

“Sure enough, Connor knew what kind of goalie stick he had. It blew us away. He pays attention to fine detail, just like he does on the ice.”

Treyton Zary is Connor’s elder brother.

The boys, not older than 11 at the time, were sitting beside each other in the back of the car when mom, Kathleen, and dad quizzed them on future career plans.

“Connor says, ‘Well, I’m playing in the NHL,’” Scott recalled of the conversation. “His brother said, ‘If he’s playing in the NHL, I’ll probably be writing his cheques.’”

It appears both dreams are still alive.

Connor Zary
Connor Zary: “Usually, if I’m keeping my shifts short and I’m on the bench, it’s like, ‘Come on. I don’t want to be on this bench any more.’” - Allen Douglas/KTW

“He got a lot of the school smarts,” Connor said of Treyton, a 19-year-old commerce student at the University of Saskatchewan.

Fortune in the form of three formidable minor hockey coaches — Curtis Camrud, Marc Chartier and Don Tyndall — helped turn Connor into the Blazers’ second-round selection in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.

Massimo Rizzo was Kamloops’ first-round pick that year. He may never play a game in blue and orange. Connor’s ascension makes that a tad easier to swallow.

Connor racked up 29 points, including 11 goals, in his 16-year-old rookie campaign in 2017-2018, numbers that created high expectations for his sophomore season.

A pair of Hockey Canada snubs, in the under-17 and under-18 age groups, have motivated him to excel, as did tragedy that struck last April.

“Connor was touched quite a bit by the Humboldt Broncos accident,” Scott said, noting Camrud’s son, Brayden, is among the survivors. “He played hockey with a lot of them. We kept him out of school for a couple days.

“That was a big eye-opener for Connor. After dealing with that, he took it upon himself to keep positive.”

The six-foot, 175-pound left-shot forward can be guilty of trying to do too much, a tendency that plagued him early in the 2018-2019 season and remains an area for improvement.

Lajoie can live with that, a fixable problem borne of desire to win. There was never an issue with work ethic.

“When you practise the right way and play the right way, you get rewarded,” Lajoie said. “He’s now developed an approach where it’s infectious. He brings that positive energy and that want-to-get-better attitude.

“It can honestly be a foundation and a cornerstone for this program for three, four years.”

A quick look at a few NHL-drafted Blazers bodes well for Connor.

Brendan Ranford had 65 points, including 29 goals, in 72 games in his 17-year-old season. The Philadelphia Flyers selected him in Round 7 in 2010.

Cole Ully tallied 22 goals and 50 points in 62 games in 2012-2013, his 17-year-old campaign. He was picked in Round 5 by the Dallas Stars in 2013.

Garrett Pilon was in his 17-year-old season when he notched 47 points, including 15 goals, in 2015-2016. The Saskatoon product was drafted by the Washington Capitals in Round 3 in 2016.

Connor has surpassed Ully and Pilon’s point totals and is on pace to eclipse Ranford.

Born on Sept. 21, 2001, the Blazers’ prospect and Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan is not eligible for the NHL Draft until 2020.

He considers his late birthday an advantage, giving him another year to become bigger, faster and stronger.

Scott, who instilled his love for the Leafs in Connor, had a message for his son.

“I told Connor if there’s any chance that he ever gets drafted, which is a lot of work ahead of him, if it isn’t with the Maple Leafs, I’m not sure he’ll be allowed in the house,” Scott said.

Keeping him outside may be easier said than done. There are holes in walls and windows.

“Even before I had a game, I’d be on the outdoor rink,” Connor said. “When I came home from games, I’d be on the outdoor rink.

“I just fell in love with the game.”

Back in action

The Blazers topped the Tri-City Americans 3-1 on Monday.

Kamloops will play host to the Prince George Cougars on Friday. Game time is 7 p.m. at Sandman Centre.

© Kamloops This Week



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