Joey Lies remembers the first time he played a major bantam hockey game. Then 12 years old, playing for a regional team, he recalls being run over.
“I got knocked down a couple of times and I thought, ‘Ok, it can’t be like this all season,’” he joked.
Only seconds later, the intimidation faded away and Lies got on the board.
“I got up and I scored. I liked it then and it was really good to me since.”
This season, the 14-year-old Lies is the captain of the Norman Wolves, a regional bantam AAA team playing in the Winnipeg bantam AAA league.
“This year, I went to tryouts and I was told then that I’d be captain. They said, ‘Keep on working, keep on doing what you’re doing, because it’s obviously gotten me to good places,’” he said.
“It’s so cool, being the only guy out there with the C from the north. Leading our group of guys, it’s a huge honour.”
Despite being a first-year player, Lies played first line minutes with the Wolves last season, finishing second in team scoring with 42 points in 36 games.
Facing the big boys proved intimidating at first for a then-12-year-old Lies, but he eventually found success.
“The first time, when we played in Portage, it was kind of scary. I played on a couple of spring teams, so I was kind of used to it already, but they were nowhere near the size of these guys.”
Now in his second year with the club, Lies is leading the way as a veteran on a team full of rookies. As a northern team, certain challenges come with the territory - while Lies and a few teammates are based in Flin Flon, the Wolves as a team are based in Thompson and consist mainly of Thompson players. Each week, Lies and his local teammates have to drive long distances, including four hours to Thompson and four hours back for home games or practices. Players based in Flin Flon and The Pas meet in The Pas for practices every week, separate from their teammates further north.
“When we do get the chance to practice, we make the best out of it,” said Lies.
“Last year, there were only four first-year players. Now, there’s only four returning players. We’ve got a lot of first-year bantam players. We’ve played a couple teams that are ranked nationally. Those games weren’t the greatest - our league is pretty good. They practice three times a week and living four hours away, it’s kind of rough.”
Having a younger roster is translating to a rough start. The Wolves have lost each of their first 15 games. Norman has only scored 24 times in those 10 games, giving up 142 goals in the process.
Lies is leading the way on his team early with 13 points in as many games - factoring in on more than half his team’s goals, despite missing a game with a knee injury.
“We’ve had a couple of really good teams at the start. We’re [0-14-1] right now, but we’ve played Winnipeg teams and all the top end groups. Our first 10 or 15 games are pretty rough, but our team is just building chemistry and starting off. After the first couple games, all the boys will know.”
It’s uncommon for Flin Flonners to captain northern regional rep teams, but that trend has changed in recent years. Lies can look closer to home to find another recent regional captain - just down the hall in the family home, in fact.
Joey’s older brother Justin, now with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, was the last Flin Flon-based captain of the Wolves, leading the team in the 2017-18 season. A successful year with the Wolves led to Justin being selected in the WHL bantam draft, then playing a season in Winnipeg with Rink Hockey Academy (RHA), one of western Canada’s top sports school programs.
Joey hopes strong play this season will lead to his name being called in the WHL bantam draft, following in his older brother’s footsteps.
“That’s the goal, to play in the Dub (WHL). That’s a pretty awesome spot,” he said.
“The day he got drafted, I was super excited for him, but then I thought, ‘Now it’s my turn.’ I have to live up to the hype. It’s up to me now. It’s been my goal to go higher than Justin did. That’s been my goal ever since.”
He hopes to play major junior and be Flin Flon’s first born-and-raised talent in the NHL in years - that is, if his brother doesn’t get there first.
“It’s just going to push me harder, thinking, ‘What else do I have to do?’ I’ve been to Manitoba camps and stuff like that and I feel like I’ve been one of the top players there."
"I know what I can do - now I’ve got to do this all season and hopefully it takes me to the Dub.”