When the Vancouver Giants drafted Cole Shepard with the 33rd overall pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, they knew they were drafting a player with elite skill. It didn’t hurt that he was from West Vancouver and that his older brother Jackson Shepard was already signed and committed to the WHL with Kamloops. But no two hockey journeys are exactly alike and in April of 2018, Cole Shepard committed to Harvard University. He then spent his 16-year-0ld season in the BCHL with the Penticton Vees. But in the summer of 2019, persistence paid off for the Vancouver Giants and a number of factors ultimately led to Cole Shepard committing to the Western Hockey League. Read all about Shepard’s eventful 2019-20 season below in a Q and A with Giants broadcaster Dan O’Connor.
When your season with Penticton ended, and the Giants were making their run to the WHL finals, how closely were you watching/following along?
“I was actually watching really closely. At the start of the season I could tell that they had turned things around and were a team capable of some great things. It was intriguing for me to look at the possibilities to see what could ultimately happen.”
11 days after the Giants season came to an end, they acquired Jackson in a trade with Lethbridge. How influential was that decision in terms of swaying you to the Giants?
“It was influential to a point. It didn’t hurt. But honestly I wanted to play for the Giants. It was a decision that I made for myself.”
In interview earlier this year with CTV, I think I remember you saying that you were having dinner with your family one night and you said: “Okay, let’s do it. I want to play for the Giants. Is that how it really played out?
“Our whole family, grandparents and all, would sit down together from time to time and we talked a lot about what the future would look like. They just kept saying to me that it was my decision and my life. Then one night I remember sitting there and I looked at Jack and said, “Let’s do this. We’re going to play together. I want to play for the Giants.” It was a really special moment.”
THE LONG-AWAITED DEBUT:
Cole Shepard was committed. Now there was the matter of getting him ready for the 2019-20 WHL season. Before signing with the Giants and before any welcome media conferences took place, Cole Shepard had hip surgery, meaning he wouldn’t be playing hockey until mid-October, assuming everything went according to plan with recovery.
So you’re committed to the WHL, but you’re still looking at a lengthy summer of rehab from surgery. How difficult was it to be patient? Especially once August rolled around and Training Camp had started.
“It was one of the toughest things i’ve been through in my life. Getting into August there was some hope, and some highs and lows. Mentally it was hard but I had a really good staff around me. Jordan Makenzie, Mike Burnstein, Giants staff, my family and my teammates. Lots of people helping me through the process. My teammates were great and very reassuring. I was in a fortunate situation where everybody was behind me and that really helped me.”
Tell me about the nerves, excitement and emotion that you experienced when you found out that you’d be making your Giants debut at home on October 19th against Swift Current?
“It was crazy. I’d been waiting for six months to be cleared. Then when I got the news I hugged my brother and a couple of the guys. Barclay came into the room and was all excited! Stepping onto the ice in front of Giants fans was an incredible moment. It’s hard to explain but it had been a long time coming. I’ll never forget it.”
What do you remember about the game? Your goal in regulation? Your shootout move?
“I was super happy with how it all played out. There was a lot building up to the game and it went perfectly. Winning it in the shootout was the cherry on top. After scoring the goal I blacked out a bit. Just a wow feeling. It was an unbelievable experience and one of the best games I’ve ever played.”
The 2019-20 Vancouver Giants season was filled with ups and downs, and Cole Shepard’s rookie WHL campaign was no different. But as the Giants started to catch fire in February, so did Shepard. From February 1st through March 6th, Shepard recorded two goals and 10 assists for 15 points. Included in that stretch was a four-point game during a 12-4 victory against Tri-City.
What was different about the Giants after the Trade Deadline?
“Yeah we got some new bodies in and they were all great players and great guys. That did a lot to change our mindset. We started playing more consistently, believing in each other and playing for each other. We knew we had a team that could go a long way if we bought in. Once we made the trades we came together a lot better compared to how we had been in the first half.”
During the 11-game winning streak was there a game or a particular moment that stood out to you as a highlight or turning point?
“Early on in the streak we played Kamloops at home. Late in the second period Leips (Alex Kannok Leipert) dropped the gloves with Zane Franklin. Afterwards Alex looked at our bench, and the whole group just fed off if it. One of those things where it was like: “Let’s turn this thing around.” It was a huge turning point. We really bought in after that.”
It’s Thursday March 12th. You’re just finishing school, getting ready to head to Langley and then you’re told “Practice is cancelled.” What do you remember about that day?
“It was sad and a very surreal moment. Nobody really believed what was happening. You’re reading about it on social media but when it hits close to home and affects you, it’s surreal and devastating. We didn’t know what was going to happen and when they cancelled practice and then paused the season, it was a definite low point.”
Tell us about life since March 23rd (The date the season got cancelled). What about school? Training? Hopefully everyone in the Shepard household is healthy and doing okay?
“Everybody here is good and healthy. Our family is completely isolated and being super careful. I’m definitely more relaxed now that we know that the season is done. Your body is able to relax and decompress from the six-seven months that we had with hockey. So now I’m focusing on bettering myself with nutrition, sleep and exercise. We’ve got a good daily routine. School’s another story but we’re doing everything possible online. My teachers send me assignments and I send them back. It’s definitely unfortunate. We’re probably not going to get to have our graduation on the date that was originally set but hopefully it can happen later in the summer. Whatever they can do they’ll do. For us we just have to sit back and stay positive.
Cole Shepard is eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. Over the course of the season he’s been listed on NHL Central Scouting lists and his chatted to his fair-share of NHL teams and scouts. The exact date of the 2020 NHL Draft is still unknown but you can bet that the Shepard family will be watching closely on Draft Day – Whenever that may be.
Did you feel like you were able to showcase yourself well to NHL teams this year?
“I definitely think I had a good chance to display my skillset. It would have been nice to have gotten some more games, especially in playoffs but on the whole I had some solid games and solid efforts.
Do you pay attention to draft lists? Or is it better to try and not get caught up in that stuff?
“I didn’t really pay attention. I don’t like to get caught up in that stuff because it makes me over-think things. But sometimes you can’t avoid it. You see the numbers, and you see the lists and maybe it helps motivate me. But mainly I try to stay away from them.
How regularly did you chat with NHL teams during the season?
“There were definitely teams that showed interest and for me it was just trying to take advantage of teams looking into me and giving me a chance. There were quite a few teams that I’ve been talking to throughout the year and hopefully I displayed myself well enough and carried myself well professionally to show them that I’m worth drafting. I want to be known as a good hockey player and a good person which I think will help me at the draft. As a player you have to be confident in your ability and hope that a team calls your name.”
How helpful has it been having a guy like Justin Sourdif go through a lot of this stuff with you?
“He was an ideal person to go through this with. He also doesn’t pay a ton of attention to lists and things. He’s really laid back. It’s definitely nice having somebody to share in the experience with. One team is going to be very lucky to get him.”