A version of the following story appeared in the 2015-16 first edition of AVALANCHE, the official game magazine of the Colorado Avalanche Hockey Club. For more feature stories, purchase a copy of the magazine during Avs home games at Pepsi Center. All proceeds from game-magazine sales support youth hockey associations in Colorado.
You can excuse Colorado Avalanche prospect Mason Geertsen for not being a big golfer in his spare time.
He didn't play much growing up. He was too busy helping on his family's farm and doing other outdoor sports in Alberta.
"I grew up on a farm and my dad didn’t golf, so I didn’t really get into it at all," said Geertsen, who hails from Rocky Rapids. "We just stick to hunting and fishing."
And about that farm?
“It was about 120 acres, and we farmed it mostly—oats and stuff like that," he said. "I did work on my [grandfather's] farm and then [my dad] would make me do real work. I usually would go to my [grandfather's] farm on the weekend and stock wood or help around."
That hard work has translated onto the ice for Geertsen.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound defenseman increased his point total each year in the Western Hockey League and finished with 13 goals and 25 assists in 69 games last season for the Vancouver Giants.
The Avalanche's fourth selection (No. 93 overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft was named the Giants' team MVP for 2014-15 and earned defenseman of the year and humanitarian of the year honors on the club as well.
"I think it is mostly about confidence," Geertsen said of his development. "Have confidence in your play and have confidence out there. Obviously, getting bigger and stronger and faster definitely helps, and getting more chances on power plays."
Geertsen, who wore the alternate captain 'A' for the third consecutive season, finished the year with the captain's 'C' on his sweater after he was chosen to wear the letter by coach Claude Noel following Dalton Sward's season-ending injury with four weeks remaining in the campaign.
The year didn't end on a high note for Vancouver as the club missed the postseason for just the third time in its 14-year history, finishing seven points out of the Western Conference playoff race.
Despite the team having a tough season, it ended up being an important learning experience for Geertsen.
"It’s hard to be a leader when your team is kind of struggling," he said. "You don’t want to do too much or do too little. It has to be a good in-between so it was nice trying to figure out that happy medium between when to be too hard or not doing anything."
One benefit for Geertsen in having his junior season end early was that he got his first taste of what professional hockey is like.
He signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Avs on March 24 and soon reported to the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League, appearing in nine games on a professional tryout agreement.
"It was good to be up there and see how the guys are and how big, strong and fast they are," he said of his brief AHL experience. "It definitely helped to motivate me in training and try and get to that level."
Now in his first full professional campaign, Geertsen is building on those past experiences with Colorado's new AHL affiliate in San Antonio and looks to get a chance in the NHL.
"I am excited right now," Geertsen said days before the Avs' training camp opened in September. "All summer that was all I could think about, getting the season going and getting ready to see what happens."
If he continues to develop his game the way he has previously, Geertsen could soon be guarding the blue line at Pepsi Center.
Just don't expect to see him at the local golf club on his off days.