For about a month and a half this summer, Corina Terrero was receiving phone calls from a strange number. So, like most people would, she ignored them.
But they kept coming.
Eventually, she answered, and found the Omaha Lancers wanted to talk to her son, former North Star Coby Downs.
Downs, who finished tenth in SJHL scoring last year and second in rookie scoring with 73 points, jumped at the opportunity to try out for a USHL team.
“Everyone says [the USHL] is one of the top junior leagues in the world, if not the best junior league in the world,” Downs said in a phone interview on Wednesday.
And so, he immediately went out to development camp after speaking with the team. Four days later, in early August, he made the move from California to Omaha, to start preparing for training camp on August 29.
After three days of camp, he’s thoroughly impressed.
“I’m playing with kids four, three years younger - some kids five,” the 19-year-old California native said. “It’s such a high speed and [it’s] competitive. The [SJHL] was really good but I think here is just all around. Every player is talented, skilled [and] speed wise, everyone’s good. Everyone is strong in the corners. There are not many weaknesses in everyone’s game.”
New North Stars coach and General Manager Nate Bedford said he talked to Downs earlier this summer and wished him luck.
“Outside of major junior, it’s the best development hockey [league] in the world in my opinion,” Bedford said. “If a kid wants to try to be the best he can, or play at the best level, you’ve got to support that.”
Camp so far has been tough, Downs admitted.
He made the Lancers’ pre-season roster of 29 players as one of 17 forwards, but still needs to impress if he is to make the final roster.
For a guy who put up over 70 points in his first year of Junior A, he’s aware it’s not his offensive game that needs work.
“I just have to work on my cardio,” Downs said. “I think my defensive game a little bit, too. Sometimes I lack in the defensive zone. I think I can improve on that. I just need to dig a little deeper and work a little harder.”
As early as last season, Downs knew he wanted to explore the option of attending an NCAA Div. I school on a hockey scholarship. He did have some teams reach out to him last year while playing for the North Stars, but he says he has a better shot of going the NCAA route if he plays in the USHL.
The stats agree.
Currently, 18 of the 29 players on the Lancers pre-season roster have already committed to NCAA Div. I schools. The full number of USHL players committed to NCAA schools is quite an extensive list, spanning hundreds of names.
One of those commits is a childhood friend of Downs, Brian Williams.
Williams played for the Lancers the past three seasons and is committed to the University of Massachusetts – Amherst.
“We played on a AAA team for four or five years in roller hockey together [in California],” Downs said. “He’ll most likely be captain this year.”
That familiarity helped Downs adjust. Omaha, he said, is “much bigger” than North Battleford but is a nice city.
In the event that Downs doesn’t make the final team, there still is the possibility that he returns to the North Stars.
“My main focus is on trying to make this team so I haven’t put much thought into that … but [coming back] is definitely an option,” Downs admitted.
Bedford said the team would welcome him with open arms.
“I think that he enjoyed it here. I think the guys love him here,” Bedford said. “I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t come back.”
But Downs was quick to note he really hasn’t decided yet because all his energy is being put towards the Lancers camp.
“I’m just excited. I really want to make this team,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a challenge to make it.
“I just know that every day I’m here to work and train and hopefully get a spot on the roster for the season,” he added.
Nathan Kanter is battlefordsNOW’s sports reporter and voice of the Battlefords North Stars. He can be reached at [email protected] or tweet him @NathanKanter11
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