The Portland Winterhawks is home to Sanford's own Carter Sotheran this season.
Through three games, the defenceman has already accumulated three assists and has helped lead his team to a 3-0 record. The 17-year-old is in his first season at the WHL level.
"It's been a big adjustment. The speed and physicality are a lot quicker than it was for me last year," says Sotheran. "Practicing against my teammates has helped a lot, and getting into game situations like preseason was big for me. It's definitely quicker than what I'm used to but I feel better now than I did a few weeks ago."
Sotheran says it's been easier to get acclimated to the new situation because of the talent that surrounds him.
"Having Luca Cagnoni as my D partner and Gabe Klassen, James Stefan, and Jack O'Brian upfront, playing with guys like that who are going to take the next step next year to the NHL or AHL, it's made it easier to have early success. We've been doing good as a team playing solid defence and creating a lot of offence. It's been a good start for us."
The defenceman adds it's been great to have so many leaders in the locker room this year and notes they've really kept him grounded through the process.
"In the home opener, they said, 'There can be a lot of nerves but just play your game and your game will work out.' They also said to move the puck quicker and just little things that have helped me settle down and make the easier play," Sotheran continues. "Watching them in practice and in games is helpful, too, the way they carry themselves and work every day on and off the ice. It's been good so far."
Sotheran notes the transition from Sanford to Portland has been a pretty big shift but he says his billet family and teammates have made the move a lot smoother.
The defenceman spent last season with the Pembina Valley Hawks and scored 20 goals, dished out 34 assists, for 54 points, which led the team. Sotheran describes what he learned with the Hawks that has helped him with the Winterhawks.
"I think coming together as a team is a big thing. Last year, at times throughout the year, we weren't getting along but then, when we did, our team was winning games. You could see that we were doing way better than when we weren't coming together as a team," Sotheran explains. "Going 100 percent in practices too. Staying on the ice as long as you can and getting extra reps in. Those are probably the two things I learned from last year."
The Sanford native is confident that the offence will come for him throughout the season, especially since he's playing alongside so many talented players. Where Sotheran is really looking to make strides, is on the defensive side.
"Becoming better defensively and making my game complete is big for me. Making quicker plays and getting my feet quicker is something I want to do as well," says Sotheran. "Obviously, I'm a younger guy but I want to be a leader among the younger guys because that can be huge. Hopefully, we can have a team that gels."
Sotheran and the Winterhawks will return to the ice this weekend as they take on the Medicine Hat Tigers on Saturday. The defenceman will play two games in Manitoba this season, taking on the Brandon Wheat Kings on January 6 and the Winnipeg Ice on January 8.