|Defenseman Collin Bowman enjoyed a stellar rookie season with the Kelowna Rockets in which he posted an impressive plus-20 in 67 games.
Collin Bowman, 17, has already made a good impression on NHL scouts, shining in his rookie year with Kelowna of the Western Hockey League. But Collin has also watched his brother go through his draft year two years ago and he knows the stakes this season are much different.
"Watching my brother go through this, you kind of learn every step of the way what you need to do to succeed," Collin Bowman said days before leaving for the Ivan Hlinka. "It gives me a little bit of a head's up and a little bit of an advantage going into this season.
"With this being my draft year, it makes everything a little more intense. You have to show up to the rink every day ready to play and ready to show your best. It's exciting, but also a little nerve-wracking to get going here."
The Ivan Hlinka, an eight-nation summer showcase of the best U-18 talent on the planet, is the kickoff of the draft season for many of these players. The United States alone has three players -- Bowman and forwards Zach Budish and Nick Oliver -- that are A-rated players (likely first- or second-round picks in the 2009 Entry Draft) by NHL Central Scouting on its Futures List, which was issued this summer.
The tournament features teams from the host countries of Czech Republic and Slovakia, Russia, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. Last summer, the United States finished a disappointing fifth in this tournament.
"I'm excited," Collin Bowman says. "You kind of see how you match up against the rest of the world, the best players from your age group across the world. I'm excited to see how I stack up against those guys."
Once the Hlinka tournament is complete, Bowman will be returning to Kelowna, looking to improve on a rookie WHL season that saw the then 16-year-old score 9 points and go an impressive plus-20 for the Rockets in 67 games.
"It was a learning experience from the get-go," Bowman said of his WHL experience. "There is a good learning curve when you first show up and then after a couple months you start to settle in, know what your role is and what is expected of you."
That's the thing about Bowman; he has always been precocious when it comes to hockey. Perhaps it is because he has always followed in the footsteps of his brother Drayson, a scoring star with Spokane in the WHL and a third-round pick of Carolina in the 2007 Entry Draft.
In an attempt to catch the eye of WHL talent scouts, Drayson Bowman convinced his family that a move from Littleton Colo., to Canada was a priority. The family relocated to the Vancouver area for the upcoming hockey season. Collin, not even a teenager yet, started playing in the Canadian system as a result.
Collin played youth hockey in Canada for a few years and then played Junior B hockey in Spokane when Drayson landed with the Chiefs before he was drafted by Kelowna and made an impact last year.
Despite spending the majority of the past four years in Canada playing hockey, Bowman was pleased to get the call to represent the United States in this year's Hlinka tournament. He says it is more a case of satisfaction at a mission accomplished when he pulls on the red-white-and-blue sweater.
"I don't know if it's so much pride, it's almost an expectation for me now," Collin Bowman says. "I've been working at it for so long. I've been working most of my life to be able to do this. I'm happy to it, but I almost expect it from myself."
But Bowman also understands, better than any of his Hlinka tournament teammates, the unique opportunity he has been presented to represent his country.
Many observers believe Drayson Bowman has been good enough to represent the United States internationally for the past few years. But he was constantly passed over, until he was invited as part of the 53-player contingent summoned to Lake Placid for the tryouts for this winter's World Junior Championship team.
"I wasn't expecting so many opportunities," Collin Bowman says. "Especially going to the WHL and not going through the U.S. system, I knew I would have to show up at camp and really show them that I could play and deserve to be on the team."
He did just that and now he is representing his country in one of the biggest U-18 events on the hockey calendar. Even his brother -- who will find out if he made the World Junior team later this winter -- couldn't be happier for his younger brother.
"It's special to him obviously and it's a great opportunity for him," Drayson said. "I never got the opportunity to do that, for whatever reason. I'm happy for him and it's good to see him developing and kind of taking his own route, so to speak."