Given the choice between a stethoscope and a hockey stick, Zach Gabruch feels much more at ease with a bladed piece of composite in his hands.
But give him time.
The career-minded 19-year-old Prince George Spruce Kings defenceman wants to eventually be a doctor, following in the footsteps of his father, a family physician in Saskatoon, and older brother, a first-year medical student at the University of Saskatchewan.
He was inspired to consider taking up the medical profession while watching his dad practice his doctoring skills and he’s now taking an online university class to help him prepare for the day he enters a full-time postsecondary program.
“It’s a little early now, but I have to start thinking about my options and (becoming a family doctor) is an option, for sure,” said Gabruch. “It’s just the social part and just helping people and working with people all day. I have a lot of experience with it, even going to WHL games back at home and he’d be the doc stitching guys up, just seeing what he does. He comes home with stories all the time and it’s pretty cool, some of the experiences he’s had.”
Gabruch played the right point in his first game at the Kings home rink at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena, where they lost a preseason test on Sunday 2-1 to the Merritt Centennials. Gabruch was held off the scoreboard but has so far collected one assist in three preseason games.
The extended training camp and delayed start to the season brought on by the pandemic has drastically reduced the game schedule until the targeted December season start but that’s given the Kings ample practice time and Gabruch is making use of it to improve his skills, strength and conditioning. He’s a capable puck carrier who carries a reputation as a solid penalty killer. At six-foot-five, pushing 200 pounds, Gabruch towers over most players on the ice and tries to use that leverage to his advantage.
“You can’t teach size and I think a long stick always helps, whether it’s one-on-one, two-on-two, the long stick is a great thing to have,” he said.
“I expect to be a leader on the ice and lead by example and be an aggressive, shutdown d-man and use my size a lot. Obviously (a college scholarship) is everyone’s goal and I’m going to work towards that too.”
The Kings acquired Gabruch on June 28 from the Wellington Dukes of the Ontario Junior Hockey League in an exchange of 19-year-olds, sending forward Mason Reeves to Wellington. The Dukes picked up Gabruch in a trade June 19 from the Salmon Arm Silverbacks and he in his rookie BCHL season proved his durability, playing 56 regular season and four playoff games. He finished the season with a goal and four assists.
“He’s got some good size and strength and especially in our rink, with a small ice sheet, he’s going to be able to defend real well for us, and we’re pleasantly surprised with what he’s going to be able to contribute offensively while using his size and good stick to defend well,” said Kings general manager Mike Hawes. “For the most part he was a defend-first guy (when he played for Salmon Arm) and a good penalty-killer and he’s going to be that for us to, but we don’t exclude anybody from the back end getting involved offensively. He moves pretty good for a big guy and his lateral movement is good, too, so guys like that can certainly jump up and help out with the offence.”
Gabruch was born and raised in Saskatoon and he played two seasons with the Saskatoon Blazers triple-A midget team. The Blazers advanced to the Saskatchewan provincial final in 2019 and he was a big part of that team, generating seven goals and 25 points in a 42-game season and another goal and five assists in eight playoff games.
“It is a big jump, midget to junior, guys are bigger and faster and you’re not playing against guys who are 14 or 15,” Gabruch said. “You’re playing against older guys, 20 or 21 if they have late birthday and it’s way faster and more physical and you’ve got to be ready.
“In midget you have a couple seconds to skate with the puck and here, it’s on your stick and someone’s on you right away, you’ve got to make a play and your head has to be up. You can’t take anyone lightly, anyone can beat anyone in this league.”
The Spruce Kings won their first BCHL championship in May 2019 and are still technically the defending champions, considering there was no league final played this past spring. Gabruch knows the team’s history and is looking forward to playing in front of Spruce Kings crowd, once it becomes possible to break out of that bubble.
“It’s a great organization, right from the coaches to the players and staff and the community support’s great,” he said. “It’s just a different world right now, everyone’s going through it and we’re just sticking to our team. We’ve only been here for a month and everyone’s close already, I feel it’s going to be a tight group.
“I’m just hoping the regular season actually happens and we’ll be ready to play by then. It’s going to be a great team.”