Three years away from the comforts of home in the pursuit of a hockey dream proved to be time well spent for Zack Letto.
He learned how to fend for himself instead of depending on his parents.
He became a better hockey player.
He became a better person.
The 19-year-old native of L’Anse au Clair on the Quebec border left home at 15 to play hockey at the Ontario Hockey Academy based in Cornwall.
He decided to give up hockey last winter after three years in Cornwall and returned home, where he worked in a garage while deciding what the future held for him.
This year, he decided to attend the College of the North Atlantic in Corner Brook to do a millwright course, and when he came to the city he discovered senior hockey was back on the west coast, so he was interested in sharpening his blades again.
Letto will get a chance to showcase his skillset this winter as a member of the Deer Lake Red Wings of the West Coast Senior Hockey League, which opens its season tonight with his team hosting the Corner Brook Royals at 8 p.m. at the Hodder Memorial Recreation Complex.
Letto is living in Corner Brook, but he was attracted to the lure of playing for a team that had former National Hockey League enforcer Darren Langdon listed as the head coach.
“I thought it would interesting to have a guy who played in the NHL coaching me,” Letto said.
Letto’s style of play could be very welcoming to coach Langdon. The big forward likes to play a “bump and grind” brand of hockey, so he may create some space for some of the smaller, shiftier players up front for the Red Wings.
“I’m a guy who doesn’t mind getting in the corners, playing a bit dirty and taking hits to make the play,” he said.
Playing hockey with some of his old friends in front of an energetic crowd that includes family and friends is something Letto is ready to embrace. He has heard a lot of stories about how senior hockey is popular with fans on the west coast, so he’s eager to experience it for himself.
“I can’t wait to play for the fans. They say the stands are packed for the games and I’m really excited to see how it is,” he said.