By JORDAN PARKER
The Grande Prairie Storm’s 16-year-old rookie Zach Okabe has committed to the NCAA team at the University of Vermont.
The Australian-born youth – now from Okotoks – will head to Burlington to become a part of the Catamounts after his time in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“This is fantastic. This is goal of all these kids – to get that scholarship and go play NCAA Division I hockey,” said Dennis Rix, assistant coach for the Storm.
“This is such a huge accomplishment for him, and we’re all happy.”
Okabe received the news before he had even started his rookie regular season with the Storm.
As of Sept. 25, with six games played, Okabe holds 11 points.
He has the same amount of points as teammates Edouard Michaud and Connor Blake. The three are top three in AJHL scoring.
“To be able to get this so fast is a testament to how special he is as a player. If you look at his stats, he’s leading the league in points right now,” said Rix.
“To have him on our side is so cool, and he’s a big piece of our high-powered offence.”
Before joining the Storm, Okabe played for Shawinigan Lake Midget Prep on Vancouver Island, and had 27 points in 30 regular season games at 15-years-old.
He recorded another seven points in four playoff games.
He would then be called up to the Victoria Junior A Grizzlies for a game.
Okabe became the first Australian-born player to be selected in the WHL Bantam Draft in March of 2016.
“It was early in the season for this to happen, and I feel really good about it. It’s another step in my career I’m proud to achieve,” said Okabe.
“It feels great to be with the Storm and we’ve been playing well.
“I’m feeling good about where I am and where the team is.”
He said finding chemistry on the team wasn’t hard.
He plays alongside teammates Edouard Michaud and Justin Bernier.
“The guys I’m with – the two from Quebec – have naturally chemistry with me. We don’t have to force anything,” he said.
“All the boys are in it to make sure the team wins.
“There’s healthy competition with the scoring race, but we’re focused on wins this year.”
Rix says Storm general manager Mark Bomersback is happy with the players they’ve brought in.
“It shows well on him for this team finding the right guys,” he said.
“We want our young recruits to be able to move on to the NCAA.”
“He’s shown Grande Prairie can still be a great place to play hockey and get a scholarship. We hope he’s the first of many this year.”
Okabe and his teammates will be back in the city Oct. 4 for a date with the Drayton Valley Thunder after a trip to Camrose for the AJHL Showcase weekend. They play the Brooks Bandits on Friday and the Calgary Mustangs on Saturday.