A World Under-17 Hockey Challenge gold medal around the necks of Joe Hicketts and Ryan Gropp would just be another memorable moment in the ongoing story of two hockey friends.
There are few players on any team in Victoriaville and Drummondville more familiar with each other than the Pacific teammates. Hicketts and Gropp have a lot of kilometres under their blades together on a journey that has taken them from minor hockey in Kamloops, B.C., to the Okanagan Hockey Academy and representing Canada at the Youth Olympics.
“They have a great relationship with each other and it was obvious on the ice. You could tell because they always seem to know where each other are playing. There is a unique understanding between the two,” said Brian Pellerin, who coached the duo for their lone Midget season with the Okanagan Hockey Academy in 2011-12. “In my mind, they should be key players for Team Pacific because Ryan is doing so well right now in the BCHL and Joe is doing great in the WHL. They are both playing with older kids who are 19 to 20 so they should no problem holding their own and dominating against kids their own age.”
Gropp, a 6-foot-3 forward with the BCHL’s Penticton Vees, and Hicketts, a 5-foot-8 defenceman for the WHL’s Victoria Royals, have essentially been friends since they first met on the ice playing on the same Atom team in Kamloops when they were just seven years old. Since then they have experienced a lot through hockey, and even their families have forged friendships.
“We just have a lot of common interests and always playing hockey together our brothers would run around the rink playing then our families became close,” said Hicketts.
The driven athletes even spend time together in the summer, pushing each other to work harder and become better hockey players.
The duo made the decision together before last season to move to Penticton to attend the Okanagan Hockey Academy, where they stayed with the same billet family. They were both picked for Team B.C. at the Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup, where they scored a bronze medal, and finished the season with another bronze, this time for Canada at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria.
It wasn't until this season that the two parted ways, only to find themselves rooming together at the Team Pacific camp and playing on the same tryout squad. Oddly enough, they are joined on the Pacific roster by another old friend – Bantam teammate Carson Bolduc.
“It's pretty funny how it has all played out,” admitted Hicketts. “Ryan and I have been really close since that first year we played together and I look forward to getting on the ice with him again.”
While they were hesitant about releasing any deep secrets about the other – the most Hicketts would share is that Gropp loves Maynards Swedish Berries candy – get them talking about one another and it's hard to shut them up.
“Ryan is a skilled forward with size and speed so he can burn a defenceman at any level driving wide. His speed is a frightening thing coming at you as a defenceman,” said Hicketts. “It is one of the most frightening things I have seen in practice.”
Gropp is not only quick on the ice, he was speedy to return the compliment.
“Joe is an all-around two-way defenceman that is really tough play against. He is a shut-down defenceman and a pretty good puck rusher,” said Gropp.
And it’s obvious the two don’t shy away from competition – both Gropp and Hicketts say they can’t wait to face the United States, which has appeared in five of the last six U17 gold medal games.
“See,” said Gropp, “we both seem to like the same things.”