It’s an unlikely story for a pair of Wolverines who have been a big part of this seasons turnaround both on and off the ice.
Two 20-year-old veterans from Western Canada have made a name for themselves this season playing for a community that was longing for a chance to cheer on and support a winning hockey team.
Both Brandon Lawson and Isaac LaBelle came to Waywayseecappo in a trade from the Dryden Ice Dogs of the Superior International Junior Hockey League on December 1 of 2017.
Some might say that they took the road less traveled to get where they are now, but in the end, it turned out to be a perfect combination of want and willingness to win when Brandon and Isaac arrived in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
“They invited me out and didn’t give me a guaranteed spot but said I had a shot of making it,” Lawson said of his initial tryout with the Winkler Flyers. “I was released and they said a good spot was to go to Dryden.
After taking that advice and suiting up for 19 games in Dryden, Brandon was informed that he was being traded to the Waywayseecappo Wolverines.
“At the deadline, I got traded to Wayway. It was on my way home towards Jasper (Alberta) and I came here and checked it out and I really liked it here. I was obviously upset because I got to know my billet parents, the team and the boys. That’s always the hardest part is leaving those people behind but it was a good change and ended up for the better,” Lawson concluded.
What many people don’t know, is the road Isaac LaBelle took to become a Wolverine.
After playing one season with the Seacoast Spartans Prep team in an independent junior league in the United States, it was time for Isaac to come back to Canada.
“Humboldt had my rights in the SJHL and I went to their camp knowing I would have a good chance of making their team,” Isaac explained. “It was the same team my brother (Xavier) was on so I was already around the team having practiced with them the year before.”
“I made the team out of camp and played a couple of exhibition games, but their one goalie came back from the western league and bumped me into the third spot.”
At that time, Isaac had a choice to make. Sign a Junior B card with the Broncos, or find a place where he could play and show his stuff.
“Instead of signing a Junior B card, I decided to ask for a trade and that’s how I ended up in Dryden with Brandon. Things didn’t work out there so I ended up getting traded to the Wolverines which also turned out to be the best for me.”
Although the pair came to a team that ended up finishing the season with eight wins, both LaBelle and Lawson could feel something was going to change and that this season would be different.
“Being on a losing team, it can sometimes seem like guys aren’t having the most fun but I found the guys really connected together, Isaac shared.”
“At the end of last season, we had zero twenty-year-old,” Lawson said of the teams’ struggles. “We knew there would be a big turnover coming into this year. Taylor gave us a lot of hope at the end of last season saying that we were going to be a winning hockey team and he pulled through for us.”
Pulled through he did.
After going 8-48-3-1 and sitting 43 points out of the playoffs, the Wolverines battled this season to finish above .500 for the first time since 2011. Beating down the doors to get to the playoffs, Waywayseecappo finished in eighth place with a record of 28-27-2-3.
Leading the Wolverines into the playoffs, LaBelle put together an outstanding year in the crease. From earning a shutout in the SJHL/MJHL showcase, to being nominated for league MVP and Top Goaltender, Isaac has certainly shown he belongs with the best of them.
“It’s pretty awesome to find that success this year having struggled last year,” LaBelle said with a smile. “It was a really good move for me and Brandon to come here and play lots to better ourselves as hockey players and people.”
“It’s really exciting to be in the playoffs. I know we’re down 2-0 in the series but a couple of close games could have gone either way, but we’re looking to take it to Portage in game three,” Isaac concluded.
For Lawson, it’s been much of the same. The veteran forward was named an assistant captain early on this season and it shows through his work ethic on and off the ice why he was chosen. After 46 regular season games, Brandon finished second on the team in scoring, potting 13 goals, and 16 assists after nursing a shoulder injury early on.
“It’s crazy how much has changed in a year with the facility, management and just people in the community. The belief in the team is awesome and I love it here. It was a great change for me,” Lawson finished.