Former Bronco Reflects on Wild Three-Year Journey in the B.C. Mountains

Humboldt Broncos alumnus Parker Wakaruk is getting set to graduate from Selkirk College in British Columbia's southern interior with new perspectives and a pathway to a further educational opportunity. Photo supplied jpg, NO

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Bob Hall, Selkirk College

Humboldt Broncos alumnus Parker Wakaruk is getting set to graduate from Selkirk College in British Columbia’s southern interior with new perspectives and a pathway to a further educational opportunity.

A defenceman on the 2016-2017 Broncos, Wakaruk arrived to Humboldt from his home province of Alberta for his final season of junior. After a season that saw him put up 14 points and 87 penalty minutes on the blueline, he committed to the Selkirk College Saints in the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL).

After three years of growing both on the ice and off, Wakaruk is putting the finishing touches on a Business Administration Program diploma and plotting the next step in his life. If all goes according to plan, that will land him right back at Selkirk College in September where he will hang up the skates and put his primary focus on earning an Advanced Diploma in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

“I was going to use Selkirk College as a stepping stone to another place or another school,” says the 23-year-old. “After being in an awesome small community and seeing what Selkirk College has to offer, it has what I want right here.”

When Wakaruk arrived to Selkirk College’s Castlegar Campus for the 2017-2018 season, he knew little about where he was coming and was unsure about what he wanted out of the academic side of his next chapter. He started his learning journey in the School of Academic Upgrading where he was able to ease back into the classroom, a place he had not been for three years. Empowered by his success, he chose the two-year Business Administration Program as a focus.

“It’s a really great place to learn, both in the classroom and in life,” he says. “I have grown quite a bit in the last three years.”

Wakaruk helped the Saints reel off ten straight victories to start his first season. Though the team stumbled down the stretch and failed to claim a fifth league title, Wakaruk had a stellar rookie campaign where he led his team in defenceman scoring and earned first all-star honours from the league.

In his next two seasons, Wakaruk emerged as a leader on the team and a fan favourite on the ice. He was captain of the 2019-2020 team.

“Our fan support is the best in the league and that helps because you can really feel the support in the building,” Wakaruk says of Saints Nation. “It makes it a lot more enjoyable when you go to a Friday night game and you know the rink is going to be full, it makes it easier to get up for games and play in that environment. There is a real sense of community, with both students and just hockey fans who don’t even have a direct connection to Selkirk College.”

Selkirk College is the only two-year school in the BCIHL and because four-year universities are able to keep players for longer, the Saints are in a constant state of rebuilding the roster. This provides opportunities for new players to make an impact right away, but guarantees that the Saints will always be the youngest team in the league.

“It’s cool to be part of a team that faces so many of these external challenges and still be so competitive with a young team that plays against guys that are quite a bit older,” says Wakaruk. “That we can have success in what is mostly a two-year school with a team that is always going to be filled with younger guys playing against university teams that have a bunch of 25-year-olds, I like that challenge.”

The horrific Humboldt Broncos team bus accident in April 2018 turned the hockey world upside-down. For Wakaruk, the moment cut even deeper. A former teammate and friends with several of those on that fateful day, Wakaruk had to come to grips with the weight of heavy grief.

“It was devastating… you don’t want to believe what you heard and that it’s real,” he says. “It gives you perspective on how quickly things can be taken away from you and how quickly things can change without warning or any real reason. You have to deal with it and figure out ways to get through it, you grow from it.”

Wakaruk’s evolving maturity and ability to cope came in handy at the end of the current BCIHL season. On March 12, the team had traveled to Langley, B.C. and were preparing for their first-round playoff series against the Trinity Western University Spartans when they received the news that all games were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We knew what was happening with professional leagues at that moment, but we still had to get ready to play. We were hoping that some way we would be able to get through that series,” Wakaruk explains. “It was weird because you are just done. You don’t win, you don’t lose, you are just done. There is no emotion to it, it’s a real bizarre feeling. There is no closure or any kind of exit… it’s just over. It’s almost a month later and still it’s a weird feeling.”

The players fully realized that cancellation of the season was necessary, but the bus ride back to Castlegar was most difficult on those graduating from the program.

“It builds on the idea that you never really know when it’s going to be your last game,” he says. “It’s a whole new meaning of ‘playing every game like it’s your last’ because at least for me, I may never play a competitive hockey game again and have an opportunity to win a championship.”

Like so many who arrive to the West Kootenay region where Selkirk College is located, Wakaruk quickly developed a fondness for the area’s mountains, rivers and bounty of outdoor recreation. Having grown up on the icy prairies where he played junior hockey in both Alberta and Saskatchewan, getting a chance to start his post-secondary education in rural southern British Columbia was what drew him to Selkirk College.

After three years of living in a region that enjoys snowy but mild winters, Wakaruk has found the place he wants to live well into the future.

“You can go skiing, fishing and biking in the same day… I’ve done it,” Wakaruk says with a smile. “You don’t get a chance to do that in too many places, it’s unique here. I’m glad I found myself in this place