When Rob and Nicki Booth moved from London, England, to Montreal, Que., in the early 1990s, they admit they didn’t know much about the game they still refer to as “ice hockey.”
Their son has changed all that.
“After I got a job offer from Montreal’s McGill University, we decided that moving to Canada was something we needed to try,” Nicki Booth says. “My initial contract there was set for three years, but now 17 years later we’ve decided that Canada is where we want to stay.”
Callum Booth was born in May 1997, and as he grew up, his parents realized they weren’t quite sure what sports Callum should be playing.
It is Canada, after all, so there was really only one answer.
“My dad played soccer, rugby and cricket while growing up, so they didn’t know what sports kids practiced here,” Callum says. “After asking around, a friend advised them to put me in the local Learn to Skate program and I’ve been on skates ever since.”
At the age of nine, Callum traded in his player skates for goalie ones, and his hockey path was forever altered.
“His team had barely won a game all year,” Rob Booth says. “Before the first game of the playoffs, the other goalie decided he had had enough and bailed out. Only two or three players were interested in the position, but after one practice where Callum stood on his head, they decided to give him a try.
“Callum’s team went on to win more games in the playoffs than they had all year. They beat teams that were hammering them only a few weeks before.”
The Booth youth quickly became one of the province’s top young netminders, with scouts taking notice as he blossomed in his early teenage years.
Because Rob and Nicki had not received an English-speaking education in Quebec, a provincial law required Callum be enrolled in French elementary and middle schools, but he took his talents south of the border last year, suiting up for Salisbury School of the New England Prep School League.
“Education is very important to me and my family,” Booth says. “At the time, staying in Quebec to play elite hockey meant I had to sacrifice a little bit of that education. I also wanted to play at the highest level of hockey possible. My intentions were to go to the NCAA.”
Booth’s exploits with the Knights led to him being selected in the third round of the 2013 QMJHL Entry Draft, 52nd overall by the Quebec Remparts, who asked to meet with both Callum and his parents to discuss his future.
“A couple of weeks before training camp, we met with the Remparts personnel,” Callum says. “They explained to us I was not sacrificing anything in my education. They set me up in a private school in Quebec City because we insisted that I needed to finish my high school. Plus, the hockey level I’m playing there is superior to my prep schools.”
The meeting also afforded Booth the chance to meet arguable the greatest goaltender in the history of hockey, as well as one of the best in the game today.
“They asked us to meet them in a restaurant in downtown Montreal,” Callum says. “When we got there it was Patrick Roy. He was sitting with someone else and he got up, shook my hand and introduced himself. That was already pretty crazy; I never thought that was going to happen.”
Roy introduced his other guest as Semyon, which didn’t register right away with Booth.
“I thought at first, there might be a couple people Patrick might know [named] Semyon but then later in the meal he started referring to him as Varlamov. To us, it was pretty cool he brought him along.
“I remember Varlamov gave me tips on managing stress because for me, I went from playing in front of 300 students to a nightly crowd of over 9,000 in Quebec.”
On the ice this week with Quebec at the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, Booth has joined an exclusive fraternity of U17 goaltenders from the province; it’s a list that includes Marc-André Fleury, Jean-Sébastien Giguère and Roberto Luongo.
If Booth’s international career continues to progress, he does have options. Since he has both British and Canadian citizenship, he would be able to represent Great Britain if the opportunity arose.
But the goaltender has his sights set on just one jersey.
“That’s not even a question for me. I was born and raised here so I’m a Canadian at heart. Wearing the Hockey Canada logo is an honour!”