Aidan De La Gorgendiere has been working towards earning a spot in the National Hockey League his entire life, but still finds it hard to imagine what hearing his name called at the draft would feel like.
“I think I'd be pretty shocked,” said the 18-year-old. “I think anyone dreams of that, and just having the opportunity to to get drafted would be pretty cool.”
It would align with the trajectory of a player who was highly touted entering the Western Hockey League, a fifth overall selection of the Saskatoon Blades in the 2017 bantam draft.
Despite that early promise, De La Gorgendiere struggled out of the gate in his WHL career.
“My 16-year-old year, I didn't have too much confidence going in, and with family stuff at home, it kind of didn't help too much.”
Home was Langley, B.C., more than 1,500 kilometres away from Saskatoon, and “family stuff” was his mom Marla’s devastating diagnosis of lung cancer.
“You're trying to follow your dream, but your mom's at home sick,” said De La Gorgendiere. “The whole the whole Saskatoon Blades organization was awesome to me. They supported me through it all. They sent me home a few times to see her when she was in the hospital.”
“There was just days where it was just harder,” said Blades’ general manager Colin Priestner. “He'd get tough news about his mom, or they thought a certain (chemotherapy treatment) might do something, and maybe they got news that it didn't.”
Marla died Nov. 12, 2019.
Hockey became De La Gorgendiere’s outlet.
“I give him so much credit for what he was able to achieve,” said Priestner. “He didn't miss a single game of ours, despite all that he had to go through.”
“Always with the word ‘Mom’ and a heart written on his tape at the top of his stick. I think once she passed away, there was a sense that the battle every single day of knowing what was going on was over, and there was a little bit of a relief that she wasn't in pain any longer, and I think he really played his best hockey that I'd seen him play since Bantam.”
In 63 games, De La Gorgendiere reached a career high in goals (4) and points (28), while becoming a more reliable and responsible defenceman. NHL Central Scouting took notice, ranking him 197th for the upcoming entry draft.
De La Gorgendiere says he would be “so excited” to hear his named called, officially becoming property of an NHL team, but says that whatever happens, he knows his mom would be proud.
“We had lots of talks about this when she was sick, and she wanted me to follow my dreams as long as I could,” he said. “My goal is to play in the NHL, and she wanted that for me, and I think that she would be super proud of me.”