ST. PAUL - Christmas came a little early for a local 15-year-old hockey player who was recently selected in the Western Hockey League (WHL) prospects draft.
Currently playing with the Okanagan Hockey Academy U18 Prep team in Edmonton and attending the Vimy Ridge Academy school, Jacob Labant is working hard to play at the highest level he can achieve.
With two older brothers skating before him, and each being drafted in the WHL - Brayden in 2014 and Kurtis in 2016 - Jacob is now making his own way through the ranks. Of course, seeing their youngest son drafted was another proud moment for parents Eugene and Jodi.
Jacob is described as being a big strong forward, which has drawn the attention of numerous scouts, according to his parents. Being drafted to the WHL is a sure sign that Jacob has been noticed, and can continue to play the sport he loves at the next level.
At 15 years old, Jacob already stands 6 ft 3 in, and weighs 192 lbs. He was selected in the ninth round by the Kelowna Rockets. Normally held in May, the WHL draft was pushed back to December due to COVID-19, to give teams more time to evaluate players.
Clearly, the love of hockey runs in the family and Jacob started playing hockey as soon as he was old enough to strap on a pair of skates - officially hitting the ice at his hometown arena when he was just four years old.
When asked why he is drawn to the sport, the answer is fairly simple.
"I love the environment, being able to train and get better everyday alongside my friends," says Jacob.
While he was excited to be drafted to the WHL, since he had been working toward the goal, it doesn't change too much for Jacob, who will continue to push forward, play hard, and train.
"My mindset stays the same and this proves to me that my goals are achievable," says Jacob.
Of course, playing at a high level doesn't come without its challenges. Like many athletes pursuing a higher level of sport, the pandemic has proved to be an additional obstacle.
"Obviously with COVID, it had been difficult to find places to skate and we were without competition for a while," explains Jacob. But, with competition resuming this season, athletes are hopeful the season will continue to offer the chance to play. Prior to the pandemic, a broken elbow also sidelined Jacob for a few months.
Lac La Biche's Ismail Abougouche was also drafted by the Kelowna Rockets in the 12th round.