From the time they step onto the ice, players today are inundated with options and suggestions about “the right path” to elite development. In Canada, where hockey reigns king, those “right paths” are at every turn. But for 16-year-old Shane Bowers, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, it was a path into Tier 1 American territory that was right for him.
“I wanted to explore all options,” said Bowers, who chose the USHL after being selected in the third round (38th overall) by the Waterloo Black Hawks in the 2015 USHL Phase I Draft. “College hockey was a big draw for me, and the USHL had that route and some of the best player development around.”
It’s a path that seems to be working for Bowers. In his rookie season, the center tallied 33 points during the regular season for the Black Hawks. We caught up with Bowers to hear how he wound up nearly 2,000 miles from home to continue his development and education.
USHL: When did you first hear about and consider playing in the USHL?
Shane Bowers: It was just over this past summer. I was talking with my advisor and with my family, and it seemed like a really good route. It gives you a couple of extra years of development. It gives you time in the weight room and time to build some strength up to really play at that next level. Plus when I heard about how the USHL is a good path for college, that’s when I really thought it might be a good route for me.
USHL: What swayed you to choose the USHL over other junior hockey league options in Canada?
Shane Bowers: For me it was just the opportunity to keep my options open and get in front of some great college scouts and coaches. I think the development side of things in the league are great, too. If you take a look at the NHL Draft and how many players from the USHL are being drafted, it’s pretty impressive.
USHL: You talked about the opportunity to gain exposure to college hockey coaches and the opportunity to play college hockey. Why was that important to you?
Bowers: In college you have those extra four years where you have some more time to develop (after juniors). Hockey development is not something I want to rush. In college you have that time to develop and do your thing.
USHL: Did you hear a lot about the USHL in Canada?
Bowers: You hear about it a little bit. I saw a lot about the USHL on social media and on TV, stuff like that. I also had a buddy who played in the league, so I think I kind of knew about it a little more than others in Canada. Beyond that, I talked to my advisors and they were the ones who really clued me in to the USHL and what it can offer me.
USHL: What was it like getting drafted last May?
Bowers: I was at home and my advisors kind of gave me the heads up that maybe I was going to get picked so I might want to watch. So I grabbed my computer and after a while Waterloo selected me. It was mostly American kids being selected at the time, so they didn’t really know anything about me or have many pictures (laughs). I think all they really said was that I was a forward from Canada, so it was actually kind of a funny moment.
USHL: What types of adjustments have you had to make since joining the league?
Bowers: There have definitely been a lot of adjustments. You have your good days and bad days. Living away from home has definitely been an adjustment. My billet family and my coaches and my teammates have definitely helped with that. The other big change is that there’s just more hockey. You’re at the rink every day and you’re working out at night and then you go to school before practice, so you really have to schedule your days and be on task and on top of things.
USHL: How different is it living away from home, especially when your home is in another country?
Bowers: School is school, so there’s not a huge difference there. The only real difference is the courses and stuff. I’m taking U.S. History this year instead of Canadian History last year, so it’s a little bit of different curriculum. Other than that I see a lot of similarities. I think it’s good to see that hockey is pretty big here. Obviously being from Canada hockey is everywhere and that’s the top sport. Here a lot of my friends like their football and other sports too which might be a little different. But the fans here in Waterloo make hockey feel like a top sport, too. It’s clear that they do like their hockey a lot, so that’s good.
USHL: How has your game changed in the past year?
Bowers: I think definitely the speed of the game was a big adjustment from the league I played in last year. That and just the physicality in the USHL. There are guys that are 20 years old out there. When you’re just 16, you have to be aware and really have to move your feet and be on your game. I think that was the biggest adjustment for me when coming in to Waterloo – just adjusting to the pace of the game.
USHL: Is it hard being so young and coming in to a league where the players are older or have your teammates helped ease the transition a bit?
Bowers: My teammates have been awesome. There’s me and one other guy on the team that are 16, so the other guys help kind of show both of us the ropes and tell us what it’s like and show us how it is. You get a hard time sometimes being the young guy, but we all care about each other, so it’s all good.
USHL: Overall, what’s been your favorite thing about being a part of the USHL?
Bowers: There’s really a lot that I love about this league. You’re playing at a higher pace and being exposed to college teams night in and night out. It helps give you an opportunity to move on and be seen by other teams at the next level. I also think that scheduling mostly games on the weekend is great. You’re allowed to get a full week of school in and you’re not too tired when you play because you’re not jamming games in during the week, so I think it’s really helped my on-ice skills on top of my scheduling and staying on task.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.