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Regina Pats' Whitehead thriving on ice with career highs

With 18 points recorded since New Year’s Eve, 2023 has definitely been a good year on the ice so far for Regina Pats forward Braxton Whitehead.
Braxton Whitehead has had an impact on the Regina Pats offense and penalty kill capabilities.

REGINA — 2023 has definitely been a good year on the ice so far for Braxton Whitehead.

The Regina Pats’ 18-year-old forward has recorded 18 points since New Year’s Eve. This strong stretch has allowed the third-year player to establish career highs in points and assists. As of March 20, Whitehead had accumulated 10 goals, 14 assists and 24 points in 65 games. In the 2022 portion of the Western Hockey League squad’s schedule, he tallied six points.

“I’m playing with some really good linemates right now – [Alexander] Suzdalev and [Sam] Oremba – who set me up really well. So, I’m thankful for that,” Whitehead said. “I started the season kind of weaker than usual. I had appendix surgery in the late summer. I felt kind of a little bit off the first half of the season compared to the second half of the season. I feel fully healed now and I really think it shows on the ice. That’s something I’m really happy about.”

Recovering from surgery was a challenge for Whitehead. He headed into last summer focused on “getting bigger and stronger and faster” and “really hoping I was going to be just a lot better than I was last year.” Whitehead lost weight after the surgery, and it took him time to get back to where he has been physically.

“It was really difficult mentally because I had all of these expectations that I felt like I couldn’t meet because of my physical status,” he said. “I’m glad to see where I am now and I just hope to keep putting them into the back of the net.”


Contributing in Various Ways

Whitehead has an impact on the Pats with not only his offensive play. Since his rookie season, he has contributed on the penalty kill.

“I really enjoy it,” said Whitehead, who has two shorthanded goals as well as one power play marker this season. “It’s a pretty strategic part of the game. It’s really fun to make the other team do what you want. The PK is set up for us to push them in certain areas to where they can’t score. It’s really rewarding being able to control their power play.”

The Pats also look to Whitehead for leadership. He is honoured to be an alternate captain.

“I wasn’t truly expecting a letter this year, but I’m really happy and thankful the coaches gave me one,” Whitehead said. “I think that I am a leader … around the younger guys more, I would say. Just kind of grouping everyone together and getting everyone together and gelling as a team. … I think I also lead on the ice. I’m always head up. Just trying to push through whether winning or losing. Just trying to make everyone play their best and do their best. Let people feel themselves. I think that’s really important that nobody should feel just because they’re younger that they don’t have to be part of the group or they are not part of the group. … I just really want to keep everyone together.”


Team Success

Whitehead’s strong offensive play has corresponded with some strong stretches for the Pats. For example, between Feb. 20 and March 4, the Regina squad won six straight games. Whitehead recorded four points during that stretch.

“Everyone was just playing together and having a lot of fun … I think that’s really important coming into playoffs – having that mentality of just being a team and playing as a team,” Whitehead said.

Another highlight of the season for him was a road trip that included five games in British Columbia. The Pats won four of those five games in front of big crowds that came out to get a glimpse of Connor Bedard, the projected first overall pick in National Hockey League draft, and the Pats.

“It was just a really fun time bonding with the boys,” Whitehead said. “Just getting to play in some places that I’ve never played before. We were all together and experiencing that. It was a lot of fun.”


Journey to WHL

Whitehead grew up in Palmer, Alaska. The community is about an hour away from Anchorage, where he played in the 14U ranks. Hockey was definitely a big part of his life growing up in Palmer.

“That’s just kind of what everyone did,” Whitehead said. “Everyone played hockey up there. If you didn’t have a game or practice, you were on the ODR [outdoor rink] in the winter. That’s where I made most of my friends. Everyone at school played hockey. Whether it was high level or low level, it was all a common trait. … That was something that was really big in everyone’s life.”

In 2019, he was selected by the Pats in the third round, 66th overall, of the WHL Bantam Draft. When Whitehead reached the U15 AAA level, hockey became expensive because the state only has one AAA squad. A job change for his father to Louisville, Ky. also factored into Whitehead heading to the Lower 48 to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 15U team. He said it was a “really fun experience.”

After one season there, Whitehead came to Saskatchewan. With the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the 2020-2021 WHL campaign, he headed to Wilcox. Whitehead played six U18 AAA contests for the Notre Dame Hounds.

“I had some awesome roommates there,” he said. “I really enjoyed that experience and I still keep in touch with a lot of those guys I played with there today.”

The pandemic halted the Hounds’ season. However, the Pats played an abbreviated schedule in a bubble-like setting in Regina. Whitehead saw action in 18 games. He said it was challenging not being able to see billets or family, but he feels it helped prepare him for 2021-2022.

“I think it gave me some confidence going into last year,” Whitehead said. “Just being able to work my way up the lineup. I wasn’t brand new. I had some games under my belt.

He had 10 goals and 17 points in 58 games last season

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