Caleb Willms’ hockey career is on the upswing after the 16-year-old Airdrie player signed a standard player agreement with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Medicine Hat Tigers Aug. 27.
Though he will not spend the full 2018-19 season in Medicine Hat, Willms – a forward with the Airdrie CFR Chemical Bisons – spent two weeks of training camp with the Tigers in August and said it was an experience he’ll take with him through his last year of AAA midget hockey.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience,” said Willms, a Cochrane native. “Everyone here is really nice. The vets are really good leaders and [are]showing me the way of their organization.”
The Tigers finished first in the WHL’s central division for the second year in a row last season, before losing in the first round of playoffs to the Brandon Wheat Kings in six games.
Willms, who notched three goals and seven assists in 35 games with the Bisons last year in the Alberta AAA Midget Hockey League (AMHL), said he noticed the increased pace and intensity right away during his brief stint training with the Tigers.
“They’re all so quick and fast – that’s how they play – and you have to adjust to that quickly,” he said.
In a statement on the Tigers’ website, Director of Player Personnel Bobby Fox said the Medicine Hat organization is excited to have signed Willms.
“[Willms] is a smart, skilled forward, that has a nose for the net,” he said. “He has excellent hands and can control the puck in tight quarters.
“He works and competes and we are excited to monitor his development.”
The Tigers can call Willms up during the 2018-19 season, but he said he will likely spend most of the year with the Chemical Bisons. He played his first full season with the Airdrie team last year, and said he aims to take more of a leadership role throughout this campaign while improving his individual points record, as well.
“I obviously want to put up better numbers than I did last year,” he said. “I’m looking to lead my team and try to finish high up in points in the league.”
Having finished the 2017-18 season in eighth place in the nine-team Chrysler (south) division of the AMHL, failing to make the playoffs, Willms said the Chemical Bisons’ priority is to improve its record this season.
“Most importantly, we want to have a better winning season this year,” he said.