Sometimes, it pays to go where nobody knows your name.
It was that anonymity that Tyler Basham believes helped him carve out a solid junior ‘A’ hockey career which, in turn, led him to a roster spot with Simon Fraser University’s squad.
Basham, a Surrey resident and Cloverdale Minor Hockey alum, is in his second season with the SFU Clan, but compared to many of his teammates – who played junior ‘A’ or major-junior hockey in Western Canada – Basham’s career arc has followed a much more scenic route.
After playing 16 games of major-midget with the Valley West Hawks, followed by a season of Junior ‘B’ with the Port Moody Panthers, Basham – in search of a better opportunity to showcase his talents – packed up his hockey bag and headed south, to Texas, where he played for the El Paso Rhinos of the Western States Hockey League.
He had connected with the team after being scouted while playing for Canada West at the Chowder Cup, a youth tournament in Boston.
“I’d almost made a few teams (in B.C.), I was the last cut, that sort of thing, and after awhile, I never really felt like I got a fair shot – because of my size, or whatever,” said the 22-year-old Basham, who stands just five-foot-nine.
“So it was great to go down there, where they didn’t know me, and make a really good first impression.”
It didn’t take the forward long to make an impact with his team club. After making the final roster, he ended up finishing third in team scoring with 46 points in 42 games – more than doubling his offensive output the previous season in Port Moody.
And though the transition to living not just away from home, but in an entirely new country, was an adjustment, it was one Basham said he grew to appreciate.
“I went from living right near one border to another,” he said, referring to El Paso’s location right along the US-Mexico border.
“I was fresh out of high school, so it was a huge jump, being down there on my own, living with billets, but it was good – I definitely like Mexican food a lot more now.”
Basham was one of just a handful of Canadians on the team, and though the culture shock was noticeable at first, one place it wasn’t as obvious was on the ice.
Though south Texas isn’t exactly known as a hockey hotbed, Basham said the fans were enthusiastic and eager to learn about the game.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said.
After one more season in El Paso – where he again scored at a point-per-game pace – Basham made the decision to again pull up stakes and head for better competition, this time to Pennsylvania’s Johnstown Tomahawks of the North American Hockey League.
Once again, he went to training camp having never been seen by the team’s coaches.
“It was a bit of a risk, I guess – I could’ve went back to El Paso for my 20-year-old season, but I wanted to move up to a better league and I just felt like it was something I had to do, to challenge myself,” he said.
“Everyone knew what my goals were – to get a college scholarship – and Johnstown was a good opportunity.”
Basham impressed Johnstown staff at an open tryout, followed by the team’s main camp, and eventually found himself on the opening-day roster. He played 56 games for the Tomahawks, tallying 17 points.
Johnstown – famous for being the home of the minor-pro Johnstown Chiefs, and the filming location for the cult hockey movie Slap Shot – was a great place to play, Basham said.
“It was so cool, such a great hockey town,” he said. “The fans were incredible, and they absolutely loved the team. They’d talk to you when they’d see you (away from the rink), but they’d also let you hear it if you did something dumb.”
When his junior career wrapped up, Basham said he could’ve continued his hockey pilgrimage by joining an NCAA Div. 3 college program, but decided, in part for family reasons, to return home and play at SFU.
“Family wasn’t the main reason I decided to play here, but it was a nice benefit, for sure,” he said.
Like he did first in El Paso and then in Johnstown, Basham again fit in well with his new club.
As a freshman last year, he scored 13 points in 23 games, and this season, he has 13 points in just 11 contests.
Last Friday, against Eastern Washington University, Basham scored the shootout winner to help cap SFU’s 4-3 comeback victory; at one point, they’d been down 3-0 to their BC Intercollegiate Hockey League rivals. The next night, also against EWU in Cheney, Wash., SFU won 6-4.
“The first half of our season (before Christmas) went pretty well, so hopefully we’re able to keep it going,” Basham said.