For years, Ben Dalke has had the innate ability to score goals – and he’ll be counted on to do just that next season with the Virden Oil Capitals.
The 20-year-old LaSalle product is beginning to prepare for his overage year with the team – in other words, his last year in junior A hockey – knowing full well he’ll be counted on for not only his goals on the ice, but his leadership off it.
“I’ve looked up to a lot of the guys the three years I’ve been here and seeing the leadership roles they took on and the way they handle themselves and kind of what they would do for us,” Dalke told oilcapshockey.com. “I’m really excited to step into a role where I can be depended on. That’s ultimately what everybody wants in their 20-year-old year; you want to be a guy who can be looked up to and be a guy who can step up in key moments.”
If Virden’s recent playoff run was any indication, Dalke is more than ready for the challenge. The veteran forward routinely showcased his high-end offensive skill-set, leading the club in goals with eight and finishing tied for second overall in points on the club (12 points) in what was a memorable postseason that saw the Oil Caps come within two games of winning an MJHL championship.
“This past season will never be forgotten when you take a step back and look at the positive things, which is hard right after you lose out, but it’s much easier when you have some time to think about it,” he said. “I’ll always remember that playoff run for the rest of my life.”
An assistant captain this past season, Dalke suffered a hip injury in an Oct. 14 game against the OCN Blizzard, which resulted in the veteran forward missing 15 games during the regular season. Despite the setback, Dalke persevered, eventually returning to the lineup later in the year, helping the club secure the second seed in the MJHL standings.
“He had a good late part of the season and then really ramped it up and peaked in the playoffs,” said Oil Caps head coach and GM Troy Leslie. “Right from Ben’s rookie year, we knew that scoring prowess was there. It wasn’t a surprise when he stepped up and scored in the playoffs.”
A former first round MJHL draft pick back in 2013, Leslie has seen firsthand the growth of Dalke’s game since he first arrived in Virden.
“When he’s on his game, he’s putting a lot of pucks on net,” Leslie said. “I think coming off the playoffs that he had, he’s got a really good opportunity here to keep building on that and he’s got a chance to be a real offensive juggernaut in our league. We look forward to him elevating his role in terms of leadership in the room.”
Leslie says it’s important Dalke doesn’t put too much pressure on himself, but rather focus on what he can control – and that’s simply “play your game” he says.
“When you’re bringing guys into their 20-year-old year, a lot of times, they put pressure on themselves statistically and leadership-wise. They can’t let those other things distract what they bring to our team. He’s (Dalke) going to be leaned on for leadership but it can’t affect the way he plays the game day-to-day.”
“You don’t want to put any extra undue pressure on them in terms of those things,” he added. “You still want them to come in and lead by example and work hard everyday and be the best player that they can be.”
Jamie Hodson, director of business and hockey operations for the Oil Caps, says Dalke has really come into his own, showcasing the necessary traits Oil Caps brass look for when using the term ‘leader’.
“Ben has grown into an integral player on our hockey club and I firmly believe he’ll be a key piece of the puzzle this upcoming season,” Hodson said. “I’m very proud of how he’s grown as a player and as a human being. I think I can speak for the entire organization when I say we’re excited for Ben’s 20-year-old season with the Oil Caps.”
Dalke offered some insight on his plans to lead by example next season and is excited to be part of what is expected to be a younger Oil Caps squad next year.
“I’m not one of those rah-rah guys. I’m the kind of guy who will give everything they’ve got shift in and shift out and if something needs to be said, I won’t be shy saying it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being part of a younger group and to be a leader for those young guys so when they look back on their careers with the Oil Caps, I was able to have a positive affect on them. Hopefully they don’t forget the things that I share with them, my experiences, and hopefully teach them the way to be an Oil Cap.”