As much as Carter Popoff’s surroundings stay the same, he’s challenging himself to build and progress daily.
The Richmond, B.C. product has spent the entirety of his hockey career in British Columbia, including 283 Western Hockey League regular season and playoff games with the Vancouver Giants. Since the fall of 2016, he’s found his path forward academically at the University of British Columbia.
While he’s become a key player in the success of the Thunderbirds’ men’s hockey team, it’s what the WHL Scholarship and UBC has been able to give to him that has him most thankful.
“I was lucky enough to play in Vancouver, which was the team I grew up idolizing; I just always liked B.C.,” Popoff said. “UBC has a beautiful campus.
“I felt like it was in my best interest to hang around here and be where I want to be.”
Popoff became aware of the WHL Scholarship from two different factors. One was through his time with the Giants while the other came via his older brother Turner, a former defenceman with the Chilliwack Bruins and Victoria Royals.
While he had no problem racking up points across his four full seasons with the Giants, Carter’s focus shifted from attempting a career in professional hockey to enrolling at UBC and playing with the Thunderbirds. It was as close to a hometown or home region team as he could find.
Though most hockey players may consider it a demotion to go to the press box, that’s where Popoff has his sights set as he pursues an arts degree with a focus in English. With an interest in journalism, whether it would be news or sports, it would unite his passions.
“I wasn’t a big numbers guy or a sciences guy,” Popoff said. “I was more reading and writing, interpreting and giving your opinion or your take and processing things that way. That’s how I am when it comes to hockey too.”
Now nearing the end of his fourth season in Canada West play, Popoff has found success in both the classroom and on the ice.
He was recently recognized by UBC as one of 139 Academic All-Canadians from the 2018-19 season at their institution, with the qualifier that students achieve a minimum academic standing of 80 per cent during that school year. He’s also fourth in scoring on the Thunderbirds entering the final weekend of the regular season in Canada West play.
“My habits really changed from my first year to now,” Popoff said. “I find now you go to class and then practice and then if you have later classes, you set aside that time in the morning for your studies or homework or maybe a bit of reading. Or if you have classes in the morning and more so at night you’re free, you’ve got to make sure you stay on top of it.
“If you put it off too long, you know it can pile up. You’ve got to make sure that you’re organized and that you have a plan.”
That rings true for the team’s travel for road games, which takes them as far away as Winnipeg, Man., with their closest competition in Alberta. Popoff admits he was challenged at times during his first year, but got into the proper routine over time.
With the financial barrier of school alleviated by the WHL Scholarship, he urged others making the same choice to commit to their studies, but to also explore their passions or perceived areas they previously weren’t interested in.
“Don’t be too pressured into deciding right away what you want to major in or what you want to do for a job when you’re done,” Popoff said. “Really take that first year and test it out, take some different classes, maybe take something that you wouldn’t normally take just to see what it’s like.
“Make sure you’re interactive in those classes. Don’t just crawl into the back and hide in the back row.”
After all, in Popoff’s mind, the commitment to higher learning and a future career comes first.
“Be confident in who you are and take pride in your studies. At the end of the day, there’s going to be more to life than just hockey. You’re going to need a career one day.”