The Steinbach Pistons are excited to announce that graduating captain Declan Graham has committed to the Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks of U Sports for next season.
Graham signed with the Pistons before the 2016-17 season and has spent his entire four-year junior career in Steinbach.
“It’s exciting to see Dec make the commitment to play U Sport hockey,” Head Coach/GM Paul Dyck said of his captain. “Coming off of a tremendous season, he is prepared to make the step. We wish Dec all the best and are very thankful for the four years he spent in our program.”
Wilfrid Laurier University is located in Waterloo, Ontario, and the Golden Hawks play out of the OUA conference. There Graham will go up against some of his former teammates in Brendan Martin, Troy Williams, Daniel McKitrick and Joseph Leonidas (Lakehead); Mark Wilson (York), and his long-time former roommate Tyson McConnell (Ontario Tech)
“This was a big decision for me and a very tough one to make,“ the 2019-20 Pistons captain said of his commitment, who said he had a lot of options at his disposal. “The biggest thing is looking at all the aspects of the school and hockey program, opposed to one thing that stands out. When it came down to it, Laurier felt like the best fit for me.“
Graham is hoping to head into the Biology and/or Biochemistry/Biotechnology programs at Laurier. “Looking ahead I think I would like to go to med school after getting my undergrad degree, but a lot could change and for right now I’m going to focus on these first 4-5 years of school and then figure it out when the time comes,” he explained.
Dyck made sure to point out that Declan will be reuniting with his older brother Mack, as they played together for one season with Steinbach back in 2016-17. Mack spent two years with the Pistons organization from 2015-17, and was named a finalist for MJHL MVP back in 2017. He’ll be heading into his junior season with Wilfrid Laurier in the fall.
“I’m very excited to be playing with him again,“ Graham said of his elder sibling. “It’s something we talked about a lot over the last two years probably. It’s something that wasn’t going to be the deciding factor in choosing where to play, but it’s definitely a cherry on top.”
Graham played in 57 games during his rookie year, netting 3 goals and 17 points as the Pistons clinched their first regular season title in franchise history. He was thrust into an elevated role in that year’s playoffs with a bunch of injuries hitting the defence corp at that time.
That prepared him for the 2017-18 season, as he played on the top pair with Darby Gula all year and recorded 3 goals and 27 points in 59 games. He helped Steinbach capture the Turnbull and ANAVET Cup championships over the Virden Oil Capitals and Nipawin Hawks in the spring of 2018.
Graham took on a leadership role in his last two seasons with the Pistons, recording 2 goals and 27 points in 2018-19. And in his fourth and final year this year, he was named the captain of the team and scored a career-high 6 goals, 28 assists, and 34 points in 52 games played. He also led the team with 17 PP points, put up a goal and two assists in the first round series win over the Blues, and was named the Pistons’ Top Defenceman this year.
“Without a doubt our team this year was special, for many reasons,“ he recalled. “It would be easy to say we were talented, which we were, but I think the group of guys we had this year really goes beyond that. We didn’t necessarily start that way, but by the end of it we were all brothers and I love all the boys so much.
“You never know what’s going to happen in the playoffs, but we were all expecting to win the MJHL championship,” Graham continued. “To us I don’t think it was the goal, that was almost the bare minimum of our potential, and in our locker room it felt like we were going to do whatever it took to be the last team standing in the end.”
Graham leaves the Pistons with the fourth-most games played in franchise history with 222, sixth all-time in assists with 92, and third all-time in points by a defenceman with 106.
“Overall as a player I feel like the last four years I was able to keep improving on the ice and add different elements to my game I never had before,” he said. “The credit there definitely goes to the Pistons program as a whole, because we are able to be on the ice so much, but especially the coaches over the last four years. Paul throughout it all, and then Mogs (former assistant Joey Moggach) my first two years and then Booj (current assistant Calvin Bugyik) my last two.
“Off the ice is the biggest thing for me though,” Graham reminisced. “Playing for the Pistons, you are put in a second-to-none environment where the culture of the organization cannot be beat. I was given the opportunity to work over the last four years as well as keep up with university courses. Being able to volunteer in Steinbach and to give back to the community is also something that has had a big impact on me.
“All of it really makes you mature very quick and prepares you for the next part of your life, whatever it may be.”
The Pistons organization would like to congratulate Declan and his family on his commitment to Wilfrid Laurier University!