By Nick Patterson Herald writer
EVERETT — Jantzen Leslie and Bryce Kindopp grew up together on the same street in the outskirts of Lloydminster, Alberta, an area so remote the street doesn’t even have a name.
They were the only two kids their age on the block, so they became fast friends, spending much of their free time honing their hockey skills while playing one-on-one against one another. From kindergarten through seventh grade that was their existence.
Therefore, it seems like destiny that the pair is set to continue their partnership on a bigger stage.
Leslie and Kindopp are now two of the Everett Silvertips’ brightest prospects, and they’re hoping their ongoing alliance leads to big things for Everett in the future.
“I definitely see (big things),” Leslie said. “Ever since we’ve played together, going tic-tac-toe with him is fun. I see huge things happening in Everett with me and him.”
The two 15-year-olds are among those expected to be featured in Everett’s annual Green vs. Grey intrasquad game at 3 p.m. Sunday at Comcast Arena, which concludes the Silvertips’ training camp.
Leslie, a defenseman, and Kindopp, a forward, were Everett’s first two picks in this year’s bantam draft. Leslie was selected in the first round, 15th overall, while Kindopp was taken in the third round, 48th overall.
They’ve been teammates ever since they began playing organized hockey as tykes in Lloydminster, and they have a long track record of winning. Last year their Lloydminster Heat bantam AAA team went 31-1-1 and won the Alberta provincial championship. Leslie captained the team, tallying 15 goals and 25 assists in 30 games. Kindopp notched 26 goals and 37 assists in 33 games, then was the province’s top goal scorer in the playoffs with 16 in 11 contests.
“They’re from a winning tradition,” Everett director of player personnel Bil La Forge said. “Lloydminster wins every year, so hopefully that will continue with our team.”
It seemed unlikely the pair would remain teammates at the junior level, as both were considered strong prospects for the bantam draft. Indeed, when Everett’s first-round pick arrived the Tips brass was debating whether to use that pick on Leslie or Kindopp. So when Kindopp was still available when their next pick arrived, the the Tips were thrilled.
“It was kind of a situation where we thought Bryce was going to be a first-round pick, maybe a second-round pick,” La Forge said. “Getting him in the third round, I was blown away. We were giggling at our table we were so excited.”
The Tips weren’t the only ones excited.
“It was crazy,” Kindopp said. “(Leslie) actually phoned me to give me the news, so I was super excited.”
It also meant that their first WHL training camp experience would be a little less stressful. Having a friend and teammate to share the experience with does wonders to calm the nerves.
“It’s great to have (Kindopp) here,” Leslie said. “That helps with the nerves, too, knowing you’re skating beside your best buddy.”
Said La Forge: “It’s a real neat opportunity for them, you don’t see that often. A lot of times you don’t have anyone you know going into camp. To have someone there you’ve been lifelong friends with, it’s going to be a great benefit for them moving forward. I imagine they’re both going to spend a lot of years here, so to have that guy to hang out with and experience everything together with is going to be beneficial for them. It’s a happy circumstance for us.”
So if Leslie and Kindopp are going to end up spending several years together in Everett — they aren’t eligible to join the Tips full-time until the 2015-16 season — just what kind of players are the Tips getting?
“He’s a real good leader,” Kindopp said of Leslie. “He leads by example and he’s a great defensive d-man who can go real far in hockey, and he can play the offensive side, too.”
“He’s quick, he’s shifty, he’s a good playmaker when he has chemistry with you — and he’s easy to make chemistry with,” Leslie said. “He has a great skill set, he can deke, he can shoot, he’s just an all-around goal scorer and great player.”
Both of them left a strong impression on the Tips during the first two days of training camp.
“I’ve been really impressed with both of them,” La Forge said. “Jantzen is a big, powerful defenseman. He’s a lot different than some of the defensemen we’ve gotten the last couple years. But he’s powerful, he’s heady, he uses his stick really well and he’s a game changer in his own end. We’re real impressed with everything we’ve seen from him.
“To me, Bryce has been one of the bright spots of camp,” La Forge continued. “We obviously were very high on him, and he’s been really good. He’s grown three inches this summer, so he’s a big kid, and he plays a 200-foot game that translates real well to our level and beyond. I think that’s both of the players, they’re good bantam and midget players who are going to be even better WHL players.”
Kindopp has already signed a WHL education contract with the Tips, committing his future to Everett. Leslie hasn’t signed yet, but the Tips were hoping that would happen soon. If he does, the friends will continue being teammates well into the future.
“We’ve played with each other for a while now, so if I could keep playing with him it would be awesome,” Kindopp said. “I think we can of a lot of good things.”
So do the Tips.