Verrall takes unconventional route

Katie
Katie Brickman
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Generals defenceman has WHL dream

The road has been long and difficult for Ben Verrall.

Moose Jaw Generals defenceman Ben Verrall, right, battles for a loose puck with Prince Albert Mintos captain Teal Sobkowicz in Telus Cup action Thursday night. Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie

But, that hasn’t stopped him from trying to reach his goals of playing in the Western Hockey League.

Verrall has been able to develop into the solid stay-at-home defenceman for the Moose Jaw Generals with a little help from Darryl Belfry and some of his friends.

“I met him a couple years ago at a hockey camp in Edmonton. Basically, we just kept in touch after that and he came out to Saskatoon a few times to work with me. I’ve been working with him in the summers ever since,” said Verrall. “It has been huge for my development. I would say that I was an average player through bantam and I think he has really helped me grow my game and develop as a player. He helped my confidence and puck skills. I owe a lot of what I’ve done to him.”

Belfry runs ProPlaymakers, a hockey program that works with some of the National Hockey League’s best players.

The two have been working together for four years and Belfry has seen the progress in Verrall throughout that time.

“One of the problems that usually happens with kids is the role that they have with the current team they play with is not always reflective of their capacity,” said Belfry. “Most players play perform well below their skill set.”

Verrall went undrafted and unlisted in the 2011 WHL Draft and was told there was no room for him on either of the Saskatoon midget AAA teams, so the family made the difficult decision of sending the then 15-year-old to Ontario.

Belfry suggested that Verrall head to St. Catharines, Ont. to play for Ridley College, where Belfry was the hockey director.

“He was very young when he came to Ridley. He was playing with and against much older players. He was the youngest player on the team,” stated Belfry. “He got a real good opportunity to test himself every single day. I think that has really created a nice habit in his game, where I find he competes every single game and tries to bring out more of his ability.”

He played one year there on the varsity team, travelling to different cities and playing against some top talent.

“That was a big jump. It was my first year away from home,” said Verrall. “It was definitely taking the learning curve quick. It was difficult to adjust, but I had to in order to be successful.”

After Verrall came back from Ontario, he tried out for the Generals camp and earned a spot on the team.

Throughout that summer, he continued to train with Belfry and even went back to Ontario for two weeks to live and train with former Montreal Canadiens forward Colby Armstrong. Verrall has also been able to train with Luke and Brayden Schenn, Carter Ashton and Jared Cowen.

“There is only good things that can happen when you see people from the best league in the world and how they prepare to stay there and improve and that desire to improve,” said Belfry. “I think that would rub off on anyone. I think Ben has taken full advantage of that.”

Verrall had a good rookie season with the Generals in 2012 and signed a contract with the Prince Albert Raiders in December of that year.

The future looked bright for Verrall.

Then disaster struck in mid January of 2013, he fractured his femur after getting hit by a Notre Dame Agro player.

“It was definitely a roller coaster of emotions. You definitely don’t expect to break the biggest bone in your body,” said Verrall. “It was definitely tough. The first couple of weeks after surgery and having the doctors tell me I might not play again was not good. I think just working through that and going to physiotherapy every day just showed that I really wanted to get back.”

He was supposed to be off for eight months, but returned in six months. He worked with Andy O’Brien throughout the summer to get back his strength and conditioning.

 “I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and I just kept going,” he said. “I just had something to work towards and walking was my first goal.”

Verrall has developed into a veteran on the Generals this year and has been enjoying a decent Telus Cup tournament.

“It has been great,” said Verrall. “I think just having the opportunity to play in the national championship is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am just trying to make the most of it.”

Although his focus in on trying to win a national championship this weekend, Verrall hopes he came make the Raiders at their fall camp.

“That is my goal next year,” he said. “I really want to get a spot there.”

Follow me on Twitter @katiebrickman.

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