Jelsma accepts Buffalo Jr. Sabres challenge

Beau Jelsma at the Harbourcentre in Buffalo. jpg, TN

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There are many routes to the Junior A Ontario Hockey League.

Beau Jelsma, 14, who will be in his 2019-20 ‘draft season’ next year, dreams of being selected by an OHL team in the 2020 Priority Selection Draft. He had that goal in mind when last year he was recruited to play for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres Major Bantam hockey team.

“I’m pretty open to anything, but it’s always been my dream since I was a little kid to play in the OHL. Obviously, I’m open to anything.”

Anything might also be the NCAA for the Tillsonburg-area left winger who started playing his rep hockey in Tillsonburg, then Brantford AAA, then Elgin-Middlesex AAA, always wanting to challenge himself.

“That was a great year (Elgin-Middlesex), I learned so much that year,” said Jelsma. “It definitely changed me as a hockey player. My coach taught me so much – positioning and skills, and what to do in certain situations. It really developed me.”

And then Hamilton, where Jelsma’s AAA Huskies won an Ontario Alliance Championship, before joining the Buffalo Jr. Sabres after his 2017-18 season.

“We played them (Buffalo Jr. Sabres) two times last year,” Jelsma noted.


Tillsonburg area’s Beau Jelsma, 14, played in the recent Hockey USA national championships with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres Tier 1 Major Bantams. The Jr. Sabres were 2-2 in the tourney. Jelsma plans to return to the Buffalo team next year for his OHL draft season. (Chris Abbott/Tillsonburg News) jpg, TN


The Jr. Sabres offered a complete package in hockey and athletic development, an elite hockey environment that includes off-ice training, Impact sports performance, video analysis, and RapidShot Hockey Training, at the two-arena Harbourcentre, directly across from the KeyBank Center, home of the NHL Buffalo Sabres.

His Jr. Sabres co-coach would be Craig Rivest, who played 923 games in the NHL.

“It was a really good opportunity down there,” said Jelsma, noting “developing” was a top priority.

It was not a decision made because he was a fan of the NHL Sabres.

“No,” Jelsma laughed. “I’m a Pittsburgh Penguins fan.”

A practice facility for the Buffalo Sabres, the Harbourcenter, which was financed by Sabres’ owner Terry Pegula, includes retail and restaurant space, a Marriott hotel, and the Academy of Hockey, which helps develop Jr. Sabres.

“The Academy of Hockey goes out with our team every Monday – trains with us, teaches us,” said Jelsma. “Every Monday and Tuesday we work out as a team at the gym training.”

Training can come from other former NHLers like Matt Ellis, who might analyze his game through video and work one-on-one.

Ranked in the Top 10 nationally, Jelsma knew the team would be playing top Tier 1 competition and that was appealing. He adapted well to the Jr. Sabres, who play an exhibition and tournament schedule against some of the top-ranked teams in the USA.

“We have a really, really good team,” said Jelsma. “We all really get along together, we’re basically like brothers. So we really have a good atmosphere.”

The majority of his teammates are from the Buffalo and the Western New York area (three from Rochester). They had one other Canadian, as well as billeting players from Virginia and Boston.

Two weeks of training camp, starting August 10, 2018, was followed by a Buffalo Showcase tournament, then another week of training camp. Then school started at St. Mary’s Catholic Prep School in Lancaster.

During the exhibition/tournament season, they played against teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, South Shore Kings, North Central Predators, Toronto Marlboros, London Jr. Knights, Honeybaked, Dallas Stars, Little Caesars, Rochester Monarchs, Compuware, Buffalo Regals, Buffalo Saints, Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, Boston Jr. Rangers, Florida Alliance, Syracuse Nationals, and more.

“If we win, those go into MyHockey Rankings, which ranks teams from No. 1 to 100-plus across the US,” said Jelsma, noting the Jr. Sabres Major Bantams were ranked 7th going into the April 3-8 USA Hockey Youth Tier 1 14U Championships in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which for a young Penguins fan would be a “pretty cool” experience.

“At the end of the year we have a State Championship and if you win that you go to the National Championships. We won that (New York State Championship), so we’re going down to Pittsburgh for a chance to win a national championship.”

The top 16 American Tier 1 Major Bantam teams competed in Pittsburgh, April 3-8. The Jr. Sabres opened the tournament with back-to-back wins against the Colorado Thunderbirds (3-2) and South Shore Kings (4-2). Jelsma recorded an assist on Buffalo’s second goal against South Shore, giving the Jr. Sabres a 2-1 lead early in the third period.

Buffalo lost 6-2 to Compuware on Friday, April 5, with Jelsma picking up another assist. Detroit Little Caesars, a team the Jr. Sabres split 1-1 a month or so earlier, defeated Buffalo 6-1 on Saturday, April 6 at the Lemieux Sports Complex, and Compuware and Little Caesars advanced to semifinals. No. 1 ranked Little Caesars went on to win the 14U Tier 1 title shutting out South Florida 5-0, undefeated in six games and outscoring opponents 35-6.

“This tournament, it’s pretty much whoever’s hot.”

Jelsma’s season highlights included a silver medal at the Tier 1 Silver Stick, losing only to the No. 3 ranked team in the finals, and winning gold at the Buffalo Cup in mid-January (North American Championship).

“It’s a huge tournament,” said Jelsma.

Playing for the Jr. Sabres was also an opportunity for Jelsma to experience hockey life ‘away from home’ and learning different life skills.

“It was really tough at first because I’m pretty used to my parents always doing everything for me,” Jelsma smiled. “But it made me grow up real fast and become more independent. I have to rely on myself a lot. You can’t rely on the person next to me. All of us billets, we adapted well. The atmosphere, the parents… it’s like a family, supportive.

“It was definitely hard at school, not knowing anyone at the school. Going from Monsignor O’Neil to Buffalo, I did not know a single person there. And now I’ve got all these friends. It’s pretty good.”


Beau Jelsma with his mom, Penny. (Contributed photo) jpg, TN


Billeting in East Amherst, he lives about 20 minutes away from his school. It takes his parents about two-and-a-half hours, depending on traffic, to reach his Buffalo-area home for a visit, which they were able to do to watch home games, for sure once every two weeks. Or occasional visits on a Wednesday night for supper and hockey. Or to bring him back to their Delmer home for visits, usually once or twice a month.

Jelsma, who will be back in the Tillsonburg area for the off season, will continue his off-ice training with Luke and Taylor VanMoerkerke at AFT (Athlete Farm Training).

Jelsma plans to play for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres next year – the team is picked in the spring, and training camp will open again in August.

The Junior Sabres youth hockey program includes 9U, 10U, peewee minor and major, bantam minor and major teams, midget 15 year olds, midget 16U, 18U and 20U teams. The 2018 coaches included former NHLers Matt Ellis (9U), Kevyn Adams (11U), and Patrick Kaleta (13U).