He's listed at five-foot-eight. Stand beside Joel Rybachuk and you'll discover that measurement to be a tad generous.
He's more like five-foot-seven. But that makes his story even better.
Rybachuk is a fifth-year point guard for the UNBC Timberwolves men's basketball team. Throughout his UNBC career, he has been forced to look up to pretty much everyone. And now, this season, the Timberwolves aren't in the B.C. college league anymore. They're in the Canada West conference of Canadian Interuniversity Sport, where personal altitude on the court is even more important.
Nonetheless, Rybachuk has already shown he can play with the big boys. Last weekend, when the Timberwolves were getting a taste of CIS competition at an exhibition gathering in Waterloo, Ont., he was a major contributor in the team's tournament victory. For his efforts, he was chosen as one of five all-stars.
In an 80-71 loss to the University of Waterloo, Rybachuk drained 23 points. Later, in a 94-53 win against the Universit du Qubec Montral, he hit for 16 points and added seven assists.
Rybachuk may not be blessed with height but he more than compensates for that with his physical power, his explosiveness off the dribble and his complete lack of fear. He'll take the ball right at much bigger men and will often catch them flat-footed. Once they make the mistake of underestimating him, he's already by them and putting up a shot or dishing to an open teammate.
When the Timberwolves open play in Canada West next month, Rybachuk will be one of their most important assets.
The tall trees will soon meet the buzz-saw. And everyone knows how that ends.
CATS MUST COMMIT TO D
Even if the Prince George Cougars now have the two best goaltenders in the Western Hockey League, they won't win many games the rest of the way unless they give those goalies some protection.
In their first 10 games this season, the Cats allowed opposing teams to pepper them with 349 shots. Easy math, that's an average of 34.9 per night and that's too many.
Obviously, the Cougars' team defence must get a whole lot better. The forwards have to start busting their butts to get back and help their blueliners, who are relatively young as a group this season. The Cats have some offensive firepower this year and, to date, that has led to too many guys wanting to be goal-scorers and point-producers. Because hey, going on the offensive is fun.
Playing defence, on the other hand, is hard work. Skating back into your own zone with the same speed and energy with which you left it takes commitment and desire. There's often no glory in it -- just aching lungs and legs. But teams that play just as hard defensively as they do offensively are successful teams.
This past Tuesday, the Cougars dumped 18-year-old goaltender Devon Fordyce, who entered the season as the odds-on favourite to be their starter. He was told to pack his bags just hours after Cougars general manager Dallas Thompson acquired 19-year-old Mac Engel from the Spokane Chiefs. Fordyce, last season's back-up to Drew Owsley, had struggled badly in four appearances this fall, with a 4.29 goals-against average and a save percentage of .871.
So now, the Cats will go with Engel and 17-year-old Brett Zarowny, a WHL rookie. Zarowny started a Tuesday home game against the Calgary Hitmen and was pulled from the net after he gave up five goals on 33 shots. The Hitmen fired those 33 shots -- many of them from dangerous spots on the ice -- in less than 40 minutes. Then they threw 20 more at Engel before the game ended. Engel stopped everything he saw and a couple of his saves could have been classed as robbery.
A good sign for the Cats, but the 53 Calgary shots on the night were just one more indication that the Cougars must push the mental reset button and get a lot more determined on D.
If they don't, the promise of this season will dry up in no time at all.