REGINA — After going to the Western Hockey League finals last season, Sam Oremba is hoping for a long playoff run in 2023 with his hometown Regina Pats.
The forward helped the Seattle Thunderbirds make it to the WHL championship series last spring, where they fell 4-2 to the Edmonton Oil Kings. Oremba was acquired by his hometown team in early October. He sees similarities between last season’s Thunderbirds and the 2022-2023 Pats.
“We’re building,” the 17-year-old said. “Last year the Seattle team we built as the year went on. I definitely feel with this team guys are upping their games, and everybody is playing better. We’re all coming together as a team.”
The Pats (17-13-1-1) are 8-2 in their last 10 games, as of Wednesday. On a recent western road trip, the squad posted a 5-1 record.
“That was a huge statement towards the league … We definitely got a good team – going 5-1 against some pretty good teams. It shows that we can play with anyone. We’re definitely building from it.”
Oremba is making an impact with the Pats. The 6-foot-2, 196-pounder has three goals and nine points in 27 games, as of Wednesday. How would Oremba describe his playing style?
“I’d say more of a power forward with some skills to my game. I like to take the puck towards the net and use my skating to my advantage. I like to play a 200-foot game.”
Hockey observers are definitely keeping their eyes on Oremba. This past summer he was invited to national men’s U18 selection camp for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Although he did not make Team Canada for that event, Oremba said it was an experience he can build from.
This fall the National Hockey League Central Scouting’s preliminary players to watch list included Oremba and Pats teammate Connor Bedard, who many predict will be the No. 1 overall selection. Oremba received a “C” grade, meaning he projects as a fourth, fifth or sixth round pick in next June’s draft.
“Anytime you get recognized, obviously it’s an honour, but it’s just a ranking and it doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day,” Oremba said. “You kind of use it as fuel to light the fire. You always want to be better and move up those rankings. It’s good to see your name on there, but it’s just a start and there’s more to come.”
Oremba was shocked when he found out he had been traded to Regina after two games with the Thunderbirds this season. He is appreciative of playing for his hometown team. Oremba noted “not many people get the opportunity.”
“I never thought it would happen,” he said. “Living at home, sleeping in your own bed, and kind of getting back to what you were used to in minor hockey is great.”
Oremba has fit in quickly and is pleased to be playing with good teammates.
“We’ve got a good team this year,” he said. “There’s lots of good players. I think we got a good shot at it this year. We’ve been getting better here lately as a team.”
In Regina, Oremba is also taking care of business off the ice. Earlier this week he was named the team’s Academic Player of the Month for November. He has a 93 per cent average while taking classes online.
“When you’re at the hotel and when you do get home from the rink, you got to put in those hours,” he said.
Last season Oremba helped the Thunderbirds to the fourth-best record in the WHL’s Western Conference. The team then won three playoff series to make it to the finals. In the second round against the Portland Winterhawks, the Seattle squad faced a 3-1 deficit. They won three straight games to claim the series 4-3 and advance. With a berth in the WHL finals on the line, the Thunderbirds came back from deficits of 2-1 and 3-2 to win 4-3 over the Kamloops Blazers.
“We had a great group of guys and we continued to battle through it all,” Oremba said. “For me and I think anyone on that team, it was just showing no matter what kind of situation you are in – if you’re down 3-1 in a series or 3-2 in a series – there’s still life and still hope.”
The playoffs exposed Oremba to various situations that he said you might not see in the regular season. He said, “You’re learning all the time.”
Oremba enjoyed his time with the Thunderbirds, who picked him seventh overall in the 2020 WHL Prospects Draft. The team, which plays in the Seattle suburb of Kent, had passionate fans, he said.
In 2020-2021, the COVID-19 pandemic caused Oremba’s time with the U18 AAA Regina Pat Canadians to be limited to just seven games, in which he posted seven goals and 13 points. The WHL had a shortened season in the spring. Oremba saw action in 15 games for the Thunderbirds in his 15-year-old season.
“It was definitely a big confidence booster,” he said. “If you look back on it, not even a year before I was playing bantam hockey and then, all of a sudden, I went to playing WHL hockey, which is a huge step up. It definitely built my confidence a lot. Just knowing that you can compete with older, bigger guys. Some of them were drafted into the NHL. It was definitely a great experience and something that I learned from.”