Top Vancouver Giants prospect from Slave Lake had one harrowing spring
By Elliott Pap, Vancouver Sun
August 26, 2011
Vancouver Giants first-round bantam pick Thomas Foster follows the action on the ice during the Western Hockey League team’s training camp at Ladner Leisure Centre in Ladner on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011.
Photograph by: Glenn Baglo, PNGMETRO
VANCOUVER — It's one thing to be “on fire” if you're a hockey player slapping pucks past goalies, it's quite another when your hometown is on fire for real.
Vancouver Giants prospect Thomas Foster is from Slave Lake, Alta., a community of 7,000 that unfortunately made national headlines last May when wildfires threatened the entire town. The Foster household itself was spared but it was a terrifying experience nonetheless for Thomas and his family.
Thomas, his younger sister and mom Lisa were forced to leave their home and move “down the road” to his grandmother's cabin. His father Troy stayed behind to fight the fires but his guide business, North Alberta Outfitters, was affected because many roads in the area were closed and spring bear hunting season was cancelled.
“We were near the fires, they went just past us,” said Thomas, a 15-year-old centre attending his first full-fledged Giants training camp in Ladner. “A couple of houses around us were gone and we have a railroad right in front of us where the bridges on the railroad broke and burnt down and everything.
“There was a whole southeast section of the town, a newer area where I had a lot of friends, and a lot of their houses were gone. When you saw a house burning, it was devastating. And it smelled. It was awful.”
More than three months later, the people in Slave Lake are still picking up the pieces. The town hall, library and radio stations were among more than 400 properties destroyed in the town and surrounding area. According to reports, the damage reached $700 million.
“In the town itself, it's just being cleaned up,” Foster said. “Out of town, it's not as bad for water and electricity and gas lines and all that because they weren't all burnt. For people who lost their houses, there is temporary housing. Or some are just staying in their campers right now. They were in hotels before.”
All this occurred less than two weeks after Foster was selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2011 bantam draft. He was the 20th overall pick, a choice Vancouver obtained from the Portland Winterhawks in the Craig Cunningham trade.
Then later in May, when the Giants held their spring prospect camp, Foster was unable to collect his hockey equipment, which was still sitting in the basement of the evacuated family house. He attended the camp nevertheless, thanks to the Giants who outfitted him from head-to-toe in new gear.
“Some of my best friends lost all their stuff,” he said. "I gave them some of the extra stuff I had."
It's hard to imagine any other rookie at the Giants' camp who has lived this sort of experience at age 15. Foster actually stayed in Slave Lake all summer and trained in the school gym, a building spared by the fires.
Due to his age, he won't be a full-time member of the Giants this season and is eligible to appear in just five games until his midget team is eliminated from its playoffs. He hopes to play Triple A in the Alberta Midget Hockey League for the St. Albert Raiders. He's 5-11 and topped out at 166 pounds in the summer. He doesn't expect to play in any exhibition games for the Giants in September.
“My dad doesn't believe I'm ready yet and that it would be best for me to probably gain a little more muscle and weight,” Foster explained. “Maybe I will be able to come back in the spring and play some games then.”
Giants head coach Don Hay is still trying to gauge what the organization has in Foster.
“Obviously he's got a good skill package and he's a competitive player from what we've seen,” said Hay. “Our scouts have told us he's a good two-way player and, at his age, it's a really good thing to be labelled with.”
Training camp at the Ladner Leisure Centre continues all weekend with on-ice sessions beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday ... Rookie camp concludes Saturday with a game at 5 p.m.
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