BOW VALLEY – An already big year on ice just got even better for a pair of Bow Valley hockey aces.
Canmore’s Will McLaughlin was drafted in the fifth round (105 overall) by the Portland Winterhawks, and Lac Des Arcs’ Griffin Horne was picked in eighth round (158 overall) by the Calgary Hitmen in the 2023 WHL Prospects Draft on May 11.
Starting out at the wee age of four in the Canmore Minor Hockey Association, excitement filled the teens' voices after they were selected to the major junior league, which is the highest level of junior hockey in Canada.
“I just really appreciate the opportunity that Portland has given me,” said McLaughlin. “It’s just a really great feeling for me and I’m super excited.”
Will's a Winterhawk!— Portland Winterhawks (@pdxwinterhawks) May 11, 2023
We're proud to select defenseman Will McLaughlin of Canmore, AB with pick #105 👊#WHLDraft pic.twitter.com/3GPf3RJ6hX
“It feels awesome being drafted to such a great organization and it's local to home, as well,” said Horne. “I personally had no clue that I was going there, but, you know, it works out for the best because I probably wouldn’t rather be in another organization.”
McLaughlin, a 15-year-old defenceman, and Horne, a 14-year-old centre, have had milestone seasons playing Canada’s game.
With sticks in hand and skates on their feet, the teammates dominated the 2022-23 season with their team the Airdrie Xtreme U15 AAA, winning provincials and climbing the rankings to fourth best team in the country.
An offensive-defenceman, McLaughlin was making plays and generating offence for his club. It led to the blueliner scoring four goals and 25 points in 34 games.
“I thought this season was a really big stepping stone for me and my development as a player,” said McLaughlin.
“I’ve always kind of been known as the more defensive style guy, and this year I’ve been really trying to work on my offensive side; the playmaking, jumping up, trying to be involved in the offence and the rush … while keeping my defensive tactics with me.”
Horne, a two-way power forward, used every inch of his six-foot frame in games, going to work and winning battles. He scored 10 goals and 18 points in 32 games with the Airdrie Xtreme.
“Well, I come from a family of hard workers and, you know, my mom and dad, they’ve always made me work hard in what I do,” said Horne. “I think [my work ethic] comes from my family.”
With the 158th pick in the 2023 WHL Prospects Draft, the Hitmen select centre Griffin Horne from Airdrie Xtreme U15 AAA.— Calgary Hitmen (@WHLHitmen) May 11, 2023
Welcome to the club, Griffin! pic.twitter.com/bx588F48br
The Xtreme team played big and it caught the eye of Hockey Alberta, which selected the Bow Valley pair to participate in the Alberta Cup, a six-team tournament featuring the top U16 players in the province. They were on the Alberta Black squad, which McLaughlin was captain of.
Following the Alberta Cup, Horne and McLaughlin were then again selected to compete at Alberta’s top-80 U16 players camp this July. Players selected to the top-80 camp are being closely watched by leagues such as the WHL.
The last Bow Valley player selected to the top-80 camp was McLaughlin’s older brother, Finn, who currently plays for the Canmore Eagles and is a 2021 Saskatoon Blades draftee.
In this year’s Prospects Draft, eligible players had to be born in 2008 and residing in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Yukon, and 20 American states.
Alberta defenceman, Daxon Rudolph, who was an Alberta Black teammate with Horne and McLaughlin, was selected first overall in the WHL draft by the Prince Albert Raiders.
The next step for the WHL draftees is attending camp with their teams in late August.
“I’m looking forward to the camp coming up,” said Horne. “I wanna be in my best shape for that, you know. I guess the hard work starts now. I’m just really looking forward to that camp and getting an opportunity to show myself.”