BONNYVILLE – It is not a common sight to see a player that dons a hockey jersey for a team other than the Pontiacs walk through the RJ Lalonde stands waving and chatting with spectators in the crowd.
But Tyler Blocha is no stranger to Bonnyville’s ice rinks. The hometown kid first learned to skate at the age of two, by the time he was four he was playing hockey in Bonnyville arenas.
Now at the age of 18, and playing for the Drayton Valley Jr. A Thunder, Blocha has taken the next step in his academic and hockey career – he has committed to play for the University of Northern Michigan's Wildcats hockey team for the 2023/24 season.
Although the young player could be called up sooner, he looks forward to playing another year with his Drayton Valley peers.
As far back as Blocha can remember, he has had one main passion – hockey.
“Ever since I was little, I was always watching the NHL on the big TV almost every night and I'd stay up with my dad. I just always wanted to be shooting pucks, I always want to be on the ice, and I just found a real love for the game and always wanted to be playing it,” he recalled. “I never really had any love for any other sport when I was younger, (hockey) was the one that stuck with me.”
Fueled by passion, Blocha’s journey has not been without its bumps in the road.
Before Blocha played for the Thunder, he had been a prospect for the Bonnyville Pontiacs, spending a summer participating in their training camp.
“Then COVID happened and unexpected stuff. I had to end up going back to Midget. It was unfortunate circumstances of what happened, but I'm grateful for the opportunity that I got to play for Drayton,” said Blocha. "A lot of community people that I knew around thought I was going to play here, I did too.”
Returning to Lloydminster to play with the Inland Steel Bobcats, it wasn’t long before Blocha would be scooped up by Drayton Valley’s team. During the shortened 2020/21 season, he earned two goals and five assists.
So far this season, Blocha has scored seven goals and assisted in eight other goals. However, The Drayton Valley forward is currently sidelined with a knee injury. He hopes that MRI results will show only a sprain allowing him to return to the ice for the remainder of the season.
"Tylers exceptional speed, skill and his ability to shoot the puck make him a deadly threat every time he's on the ice,” says Drayton Valley’s Head Coach Eric Thurston, in a statement. "Northern Michigan has recruited a great player. Tyler has the ability to play both wing and centre and his work ethic will only keep taking his game to the next level.”
It was noted that the young forward had been gaining a lot of interest from scouts since coming to the AJHL from U18 AAA hockey.
With the ability to successfully play two positions, Blocha said he was first spotted during the irregular and COVID-impacted season. “They were watching me through the bubble year and when we played 10 games in the spring (of 2021), they spotted me there.”
When the season began this year, Blocha suffered another minor injury but once he returned to the ice and got back into the flow of things, he started receiving calls about what his future could look like at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) level.
The night Blocha decided he would commit to the Northern Michigan Wildcats he had a hard time sleeping. Early the next morning, he called his father from Drayton Valley letting him know that he had come to a decision. Receiving the approval from his father to do what he felt was best, Blocha began making calls to confirm his commitment to the American university.
“From there, I went to the arena and told my coach and then hopped on the bus and went to play a game,” he said, with a smile.