Koy Funk had the unique experience of being under the bright lights and on the big stage, but without the pressure that usually comes hand-in-hand.
The Portager went out to Calgary to participate in the Hitmen's training camp, which was held at the Scotiabank Saddledome (Calgary Flames arena) for the first time.
"The camp was actually their main camp, so I got to play with all the veteran players, too," Funk explains. "It was unbelievable getting to meet all the players and staff. I got a tour of the facility, and we were playing in the Saddledome. It was crazy playing in an NHL arena."
Funk felt like he was already a professional hockey player when he stepped onto the ice in Calgary; however, he knew he wouldn't be making the team this year before he put on the practice jersey.
"We had a meeting with the management beforehand, and they said, 'You can't make the team this year, you're too young. So, there's no pressure. Just get a feel for it.' So, I was there to get comfortable and get ready for next year's camp," Funk continues. "It was definitely a bit different having all those scouts watching, but I was just there to have fun and get the experience."
The 15-year-old made sure to stick around as many of the veterans as possible during his few days with the group.
"I played a lot with a couple of the older guys. I was put on the wing with them. They gave me little tips on the bench after each shift. Little things like, 'There you should be slashing.' Or, 'Just chip the puck, and I'll come across to pick it up.' You learn a lot of the fine details to make your game a bit better."
One piece of advice Funk wants to bring into the 2023-24 season is laying the body early.
"They said, get three or four good hits at the start of the game, and it'll really get you engaged. When you start doing that, it changes how you play. You're immediately in the game and ready to make an impact."
Funk was drafted by Calgary in the 4th round of the 2023 WHL Draft. He says getting a glimpse of what life is like in the WHL has him even more motivated to crack the roster next year.
"I've never played in a facility like that before. A place that can hold 18,000 people. I was talking to a few of the players, and they said during the season, they can get a crazy amount of people. For their Teddy Bear Toss, they filled the arena. We even had fans come out to the training camp. There were little kids standing by the bench ready for a fist bump. After getting a little taste, all I want is the rest of it. I want to go to the game with the arena filled and hear everybody chanting. I look forward to that now."
The forward scored 45 points in 30 games for U15 RINK Hockey Academy (RHA) and will be returning to the program this season.
"This year, I'm coming back to play with RHA Winnipeg U18. I'll just be trying to develop those small details to fine-tune my game, establish myself as the type of player I want to be, and get ready to make the next jump."
Funk adds the player he wants to be is a power forward who can use his finesse when necessary. He notes the coaching staff treated him with a ton of respect and he even got to meet a former Portage Terriers legend.
"I got to meet up with Don MacGillivray, the old coach of the Terriers. It was cool. I met the (Hitmen's) head coach, we went into his office, and (MacGillivray) is a new addition to the team as the assistant coach. I never met him before, but he coached my dad. So, it was a good experience to meet him. Hopefully, I can get to know him a bit better in the future."