From tying up his skates at home and walking to the arena on his blades, to being the current top scorer in the Central Interior Hockey League, Jassi Sangha has a great story to tell about how his path in life led to hockey.
Originally from Vancouver, the now 29-year-old Sangha and Williams Lake Stampeders’ forward moved to Kamloops around the age of four.
“I never played hockey in Vancouver,” he said. “Soccer was the thing to play. My dad took me to public skating one time as a kid and signed me up for hockey the next season.”
To put it bluntly, Sangha said his first season in hockey was a learning experience.
“Coming from an East Indian family, we didn’t know anything about hockey,” he said. “I used to tie my skates up at home and walk to the rink. A random parent stopped me one day and said, ‘uh, you shouldn’t be doing that.’”
From there, Sangha played minor hockey in the Kamloops Minor Hockey Association and proceeded on to play in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League with the Kamloops Storm. Later, he suited up for the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack men’s hockey team.
His arrival in Williams Lake came in 2013 following his completion of a history degree at TRU when his family sold a hotel they owned in Kamloops and purchased the Best Western in the lakecity.
He’s now in his fifth season with the Williams Lake Stampeders and currently leads the CIHL in scoring with 18 points (3G, 15A) in just five games.
Sangha’s stumbling across the senior men’s hockey club, however, was a bit of a fluke.
“I didn’t know anyone in Williams Lake,” he said. “It was around mid to late December and I typed in Williams Lake drop-in hockey in Google. A number came up and I talked to a lady and she told me there was drop-in hockey that night. I was just looking for somewhere to skate.”
Upon arrival at “drop-in” Sangha joined seven other players in the dressing room and, upon hitting the ice, noticed the players start running a practice.
“I knew something was weird when a couple of coaches came on the ice,” he said. “I realized this is not drop-in, this is something else.”
After the practice, then Stampeders’ coach Cliff Philpot skated over to Sangha and asked: “Are you interested in playing this weekend?”
“I said, what do you mean? He said this is senior men’s hockey. I just thought it was drop-in so I said no, I don’t want to play.”
After the experience, he phoned up his friends who are now fellow Stampeders’ players from Kamloops David Gore and Andrew Fisher.
“I was like, they’ve got this weird senior men’s league in Williams Lake. If you tell me you’re going to play I’ll do it, so we all decided to play.”
His first game with the team was also an eye-opening experience.
“I’m from Kamloops. In university and with the Storm you dress up nice and wear a suit and tie on game day. I dress up nice and walk in by the concession there and see (Stampeders’ assistant captain) Nathan Zurak standing there in work boots and work pants. I went in the dressing room and got made fun of for about an hour. I’m wearing a three-piece suit and coming in as the new guy.”
It didn’t take long, however, for Sangha’s talent on the ice and personality off it to win over his teammates.
“We have a special group here,” he said. “That’s the only reason I’ve played for five years. The guys are very special and we’re just like a family.”
He said it’s not necessarily that the Stampeders’ success stems from having the best players in the league, but from how close the team’s players are to each other. Williams Lake is currently sitting in first place in the CIHL with six wins and one loss.
“That translates on the ice,” he said.
The Stampeders’ will be at home this Saturday when they take on the CIHL’s third-place Prince Rupert Rampage (4-2-0).
“Every game is a big game for us,” Sangha said. “We can’t afford to lose any games. We’re first and we expect to be first by the end of the season. It doesn’t matter what team, if we play our best no one can compete with us.”
Saturday’s tilt against the Rampage is slated for a 7:30 p.m. puck drop at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex.