Fittingly, Ty Mappin returned to the Western Hockey League on Hockey Day in Canada.
The Saskatoon Blades, who acquired the WHL rights to the Big Valley centre a week earlier in a trade with the Everett Silvertips, dressed Mappin for Saturday night’s home game, a 4-3 loss to the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Mappin sported jersey No. 37, as he does in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Olds Grizzlys. As scheduled, he returned to the junior A Grizzlys on Sunday and the Blades plan to call up Mappin on an occasional basis for the rest of this season.
“They’re a pretty young team, so I think it’s going to be a good fit for me over there,” Mappin said of Saskatoon, which last spring hosted the Memorial Cup.
“It was good to be back (in the WHL). It was an exciting night.”
Mappin, who turns 18 this Saturday, is thankful that the Blades showed faith in him.
“They took the chance on me, so I want to be sure they won’t regret it,” he said. “I think I can help them with the rebuilding process.”
Blades general manager Lorne Molleken said Mappin’s relative youth and superior skill make him an attractive prospect, even though he had slipped out of major junior this season.
“We know we’re getting a player with an exceptional skill-set who has played in the league before,” Molleken said. “We know less about his character, but these next few months will help us to get a read on him.
“We believe Ty is a player who could help this franchise considerably in the next few years.”
Molleken said the Blades, in consultation with Mappin, his parents and the Grizzlys, agreed to leave him with Olds for the rest of this season to enable him to continue to develop and to finish Grade 12.
The Blades gave up a conditional seventh-round draft pick to land Mappin, whom Everett chose seventh overall in the 2011 WHL bantam draft. He played all of last season with the Silvertips, scoring five goals and 17 points in 63 games, but had fallen on their depth chart this season and asked for his junior A assignment after training camp last fall.
Olds became his new hockey home as he joined a Grizzlys team that features familiar faces from his Red Deer midget career.
While supportive of players advancing to the next level, Olds coach and general manager Brett Hopfe is appreciative that the Grizzlys still can count on Mappin’s services.
“It’s definitely nice for us to have him back,” Hopfe said Monday after Mappin returned to the Grizzlys for practice.
“When we heard about the trade, we were obviously very excited for him to get a fresh (WHL) start somewhere else. (But) we knew that he wanted to finish off his schooling, so we weren’t worried about losing him this year. That’s the commitment he made right when we brought him back the first time.
“We want to help Saskatoon out as much as we can, with getting him up to games, since he’s affiliated there. Getting some experience there, I think that’ll help him out and our team out.”
After a slow start offensively, Mappin has 18 points — including 14 assists — in 33 games with Olds.
“After the experience he had last year, he was a little down on himself,” Hopfe said, referencing Mappin’s 16-year-old season in the WHL. “He’s starting to get some of his confidence back, and just his enjoyment of the game.
“It was a very positive experience for him in Saskatoon. For that organization to think so much about him to pick him up, when I’m sure a lot of WHL teams had questions about him coming back to (junior A) and wondering what his commitment level was … I think that confidence just helped his confidence level grow, as well.”
The Blades were at home for two games last weekend, but agreed to delay Mappin’s promotion until Saturday to enable him to play in the Grizzlys’ 2-1 overtime loss to the visiting Canmore Eagles on Friday night in what Hopfe said was “a pretty important game against a South (Division) opponent.”
Mappin made the most of his initial audition with the Blades.
“I got pretty good ice time,” he said. “I played mostly fourth line, as would be expected as the new guy.
“They kind of saw the offensive upside of me, and later in the game, I got some time on a line with (Nikita) Scherbak and (Nick) Zajac. That was a good experience, especially to play with a player of Scherbak’s calibre.”
Just three days earlier, Scherbak — a high-scoring Russian — skated in the NHL top prospects game at the Saddledome in Calgary.
During his Saskatoon stay, Mappin resided with Blades sophomore forward Ryan Graham, a Calgarian and a familiar face from their stint as Team Pacific teammates at the world under-17 championship last season.
Blades assistant coach Curtis Leschyshyn, a former NHL defenceman, gave Mappin top marks after his Saskatoon debut.
“We liked what we saw,” Leschyshyn told the Blades’ post-game radio show on 92.9 The Bull.
“(Blades defenceman) Nelson Nogier, actually, said you can tell it wasn’t (Mappin’s) first Western Hockey League game. Even though it was his first this year, he’s been at this level, so he knows how to play. He competed, he was in the corners, he’d dig pucks out, he finished his checks (and) he was good on faceoffs. I liked his game. Hopefully, we can get him in here a little bit more in the future, and then next year, be a big part of this hockey club.”
Mappin is banking on more opportunities with the Blades, who visit Alberta next month for games in Calgary and Red Deer.
For now, his focus is AJHL action with Olds, which hosts the Calgary Mustangs this Friday.
“Things are going pretty good here,” he said after Monday’s practice. “We’re progressing.”
The Grizzlys (19-20-8) are sixth in the eight-team South Division.