Dylan Garand is a student.
Whether you’re talking about the 18-year-old’s approach to the game on the ice or his excellence off the ice in the classroom, Garand is a learner. And a good one, at that.
The 6-foot-1, 172-pound product of Victoria, B.C., proved to be at the top of his class this past season, taking home the Daryl K. (Doc) Seaman Memorial Trophy as WHL Scholastic Player of the Year. He finished his Grade 12 campaign with a 96.5 per cent overall academic average – not too shabby for an aspiring professional hockey player balancing a busy life.
“In school, I’ve always held my standards high and I’ve lived by the motto of ‘if you’re going to do it, you may as well try hard and do the best you can,’” Garand said. “It’s the attitude you have and if you stay on top of your work, it’s not too difficult.”
On the subject of professional hockey, Garand doesn’t limit his studying to books. Upon his arrival in Kamloops at the onset of the 2018-19 campaign, he had Vegas Golden Knights prospect Dylan Ferguson as a mentor.
Ferguson, now 22, spent four seasons in the WHL, appearing in 155 regular season contests. He had plenty of experience to offer the young Garand.
“Playing with Fergie was huge for me and my development,” Garand said. “He taught me a lot. Watching him in practice and in games, how he carried himself – it was huge to see. He was a great guy to learn from, a super nice guy to me – he really took me under his wing and I really appreciate him for that.
“There have been some great goalies through Kamloops in the past few years, and I’m really lucky to have been able to learn from each of them.”
Prior to Ferguson was Nashville Predators prospects Connor Ingram, now 23. And though Garand says he never shared the ice with the product of Saskatoon, he’s had conversations with the AHL All-Star, and done all he can to take away every bit of information possible.
Remember that nugget of wisdom Garand mentioned earlier – “if you stay on top of your work, it’s not too difficult.” A look at the report card for the Blazers’ latest star netminder suggests he is not only on top of his work, but excelling at it.
NHL Central Scouting has him ranked sixth among North American goaltenders heading into the 2020 NHL Draft. Pretty darn good. In 42 appearances during the shortened 2019-20 campaign – his first as a starter in the WHL – Garand went 28-10-2-1 with a 2.21 goals-against average, .921 save percentage, and four shutouts. He was among the WHL leaders in two vital goaltending categories – GAA (third) and SV% (third). His four shutouts were tied for fourth.
“I just try to keep it simple, take it one day at a time, and just try to get better each day,” Garand said. “We’ll see where that ends up. I’m not focusing on anything too specific, I just want to get better and continue to give my team a chance to win each night.”
Garand has done just that to this point in his career, and had the 2020 WHL Playoffs not been cancelled due to COVID-19, it’s reasonable to think he was set to give his team a chance to hoist the Ed Chynoweth Cup and challenge for a Memorial Cup title down the road in Kelowna. Alas, the focus shifts to 2020-21, where Garand’s Blazers will once again be considered favourites to top the WHL.
“I’m just looking forward to getting things going, being back with the guys, gelling together and building a contending team,” Garand said. “It’s going to be a super fun year, we’re all going to get great experience and learn a lot. I just can’t wait to get back with the guys and try to compete for a championship.”
Beyond the 2020 NHL Draft, a WHL Championship is certainly the next big goal for Garand. He has already racked up a great deal of incredible experience elsewhere. He played a steady role in a win for Team White at the 2020 Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Hamilton, Ont., back in January. He helped Team B.C. reign supreme at the 2017 WHL Cup in Calgary. He earned a silver medal for Team Canada at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and he represented his nation at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2018.
A conversation with Garand suggests he has the icy cool in his blood that is required of a championship-calibre goaltender. Next week will determine whether or not an NHL Club sees that potential in the Blazers star. Regardless of where Garand finds himself at the conclusion of the 2020 NHL Draft, you know he is going to have learned something from the entire process. That’s just what good students do.
With files from Zach Hodder