Football and baseball have long been dominant sports throughout the South, and a lot of folks would say basketball is king in North Carolina.
And Garner High has long been good at all three.
But the school’s hockey tradition has been lacking – at least until Jordan Wanchock came along.
The Trojan junior and his Junior Hurricanes team played in the Tier I U16 National Championships in San Jose, Calif., over the weekend, and he and the squad gave an outstanding account of themselves against a field of teams from places where April snows aren’t uncommon.
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“I think if we play our best hockey, we can beat just about anyone we play,” said the 6-2, 190-pound two-way forward, who turned 17 on Feb. 22.
And the Junior Hurricanes did a lot of that in the tournament, finishing fifth overall after pool play before losing 7-2 to powerful Shattuck St-Mary’s in Sunday morning’s quarterfinals.
Before the knockout round the North Carolinians went 2-1. They knocked off traditional power Chicago Mission 3-2 in the opener, beating the boys from the Windy City for the third time in four meetings this season.
The Hurricanes fell to the Yale-Bulldogs 5-3 in their second game, setting up a situation in their third contest in which they had to beat the last-place Syracuse Stars in regulation to qualify for pool play.
Wanchock helped get his team off on the right foot on Saturday night, sliding the puck to Skylar Brind’Amour for the game-winner just 2:00 into a 4-0 rout.
The team’s head coach, Clay Cotie, is a British Columbia native and full-time hockey coach whose own playing career in the Major Junior Western Hockey League was cut short with a knee injury.
“We beat several teams in the Top 10, and we’re the Southeast champions,” Cotie said. “We have 19 players on our roster and all of them want to play college hockey. When you’re in the U-16 AAA bracket you’re taking it very seriously.”
Seriously enough to have a 35-17-6 record on the season and hold the No. 21 ranking out of 154 teams nationally going into the tournament.
Wanchock has been taking hockey seriously for a long time. He learned how to skate when he was two years old, and being one of the bigger kids for his age he started slapping the puck around when he was three. The next season was his first on an organized hockey club.
And a couple of years later he had his first big moment at PNC Arena, which at the time was called the RBC Center.
“I remember my Dad making me a (one-way) bet that I couldn’t score a goal when we were playing between periods at a Hurricanes game,” Wanchock said. “He bet me $100. And I scored. When I won that money I was a happy kid!”
Since then, Jordan has returned to amateur status.
This season, including exhibition games, he has 16 goals and 13 assists with 30 hits and 30 penalty minutes.
And his play has been good enough to make a solid impression on one of the greats of the game.
Carolina Hurricanes assistant coach and Skyler’s father Rod Brind’Amour, who captained his team to the 2006 Stanley Cup and has his No. 17 hanging in the rafters, runs the junior team’s practices when the NHL team is in town and doesn’t play that day.
“He’s a big kid who’s come a long way,” Brind’Amour said of Hanchock. “You never know how far he can go, but he’s progressed really well. He’s a good kid and works hard.
“When he gets consistent, the best parts of his game are his size and strength. He can bowl over guys and he’s tough to move from in front of the net. And he’s developed a pretty good shot. It’s not really one thing, but when he’s ready to play he’s a force because he’s so big.”
Wanchock, a lefty who pitched and played first base, had also played baseball when he was small but decided in middle school to concentrate on hockey and give up the diamond. He also played quarterback at Durant Road Middle and was one of the Trojans’ JV quarterbacks as a freshman before hockey obligations were making for too many conflicts.
“You can’t be a varsity quarterback if you’re somewhere else playing hockey on Friday nights,” he explained. “And I’m really more comfortable with hockey than with any other sport.”
And with so little competition in the area, that decision has given Wanchock plenty of miles in the air.
“We have to go all over the country, because we can’t just play against ourselves,” he said. “We actually had a two home games one weekend this year, and that was the first time my Mom (Melinda Swinney) had seen me play a game in over two years.”
Wanchock said he really enjoys keeping up with Garner High’s teams, and has been on the sidelines with the “Blue Crew” fan club for plenty of basketball and other games.
But unfortunately for that, this is his last academic year at Garner. He has agreed to play with the Buffalo Junior Sabres next season to enhance his chances to play college hockey. He’ll attend a public school and live with a host family.
“I’m really going to miss it here,” said Wanchock, who is in honors speech classes and said he’s thinking about a career as a pharmaceutical sales representative after hockey.
“But they want to utilize my hockey skills in Buffalo. And there’s a lot more competition up there. Scouts have a hard time coming to North Carolina just to look at one or two players.”