Nobody will outwork Carter and you can take that to the Bancks

Author: Thomas Waind, for PHPA.com
Date: Sep 18, 2017

United Center in Chicago, Illinois on April 26, 2013. Just another game during the dog days of the NHL schedule. Perennial contender Chicago Blackhawks were hosting the sputtering Calgary Flames. At this point Chicago has already punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs while the Flames are well out of the playoff picture. To the average viewer it’s a just another game to throw on a Saturday night. But for Flames winger Carter Bancks, it was a career defining night.

Bancks, 23 years old at the time, had been playing in the American Hockey League with Abbotsford until he received the promotion to join Calgary late in the 2012-13 season. “It was pretty surreal,” Bancks recalls. “I’ve never produced a tonne of points. I try and play the game honestly and hard. I took a lot of time killing penalties and playing defensively against other teams’ top lines. When you’re not a high draft pick or goal scorer, you start to wonder if you’ll ever get your shot to play in the NHL. To get the call was pretty amazing. I called my Mom and Dad right after.”

Carter’s NHL debut was actually in Nashville, TN three days before that night in Chicago, but as he put it, “I don’t remember that Nashville game a whole heck of a lot. It was just a blur if I’m being honest with you. I was just so excited and nervous.”

After a couple of days to decompress and process the idea of playing NHL hockey, it was time to suit up once again versus the Blackhawks in front of a hostile United Center crowd. “I was warned that the crowd just goes nuts for the American anthem. I thought I had played in loud rinks before but I wasn’t expecting this. The crowd was just screaming, not even singing, the entire time. Every hair on my body was standing on edge.”

The Flames started with Bancks’ line for the opening draw, which would be an exciting opportunity if it weren’t for their matchup. “Their starting lineup ended up being Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on the back end. I was just standing there with the emotion of a screaming crowd and just hoping, ‘please don’t score on us on the first shift. Just let me get one clean shift in.’”

“It was pretty funny, they actually got a pretty good scoring chance off of the draw and Joey MacDonald made a great save for us. I went up to him and just said ‘thank you so much Joey.’ I skated off the bench and was relieved to get that first shift out of the way. It ended up being a really fun game.”

The road to those two NHL games was a long one. Overlooked in both the NHL and Western Hockey League (WHL) as an undersized winger, Bancks had to fight for every inch both on and off of the ice. “The one thing that I had going for me was that I was extremely motivated,” Bancks recollected. “My biggest motivator was trying to prove people wrong. I was told I’d never play in the WHL because I was too small and not good enough to play in the league.”

After opening some eyes with 73 points in 50 games in 2005-06 for the Kimberly Dynamiters of the KIJHL, Bancks was able to sign on with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes. It was in Lethbridge that Bancks would enjoy the next four years of his life. 262 regular season games, 58 goals, 178 points, 28 playoff games, and when all was said and done the Hurricanes named Carter captain for his final season.

“Lethbridge was an awesome experience for me. We had a good team a couple of the years that I was there. I believe my age 18 season (2007-08), we went to the (WHL) finals and ended up losing to the Spokane Chiefs, who would eventually go on to win the Memorial Cup. That playoff run was an amazing experience, and one that I look back on fondly. The community was awesome and embraced us the whole way. Lethbridge is definitely still a special place for me.”

After going undrafted in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Bancks was invited to the Atlanta Thrashers and San Jose Sharks camps as a free agent. After not receiving a contract he returned to Lethbridge for his over-age season in 2009-10 where he racked up 55 points and 96 PIMs in 70 games. The Hurricanes missed the playoffs, but there was a silver lining for Bancks.

After considering a move to the CIS to play university hockey at the conclusion of the 2009-10 season, Carter received a call from the Calgary Flames. They offered him an AHL contract where he would join their affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat, for the remainder of the season. Bancks was able to get in nine regular season games and played 13 playoff games.

After that brief trial run, Abbotsford brought Bancks back for the 2010-11 season where he put up 19 points in 29 games before being shut down for the season with a concussion. In limited time over his first year and a half, Carter impressed Calgary enough that they offered him a two-way contract.

“Luckily, Calgary liked what they saw in the 30 games that I had played as a rookie and offered me an NHL contact. It was a really exciting time for me. Originally as an AHL PTO you’re just taking a chance on yourself and hoping you can stick.”

After five seasons, 224 regular season games and 25 playoff games, and 2 NHL games Bancks ended up leaving Abbotsford and the Calgary Flames organization and signed with the Utica Comets, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, following the 2013-14 season. While Utica offered Carter a great new opportunity, Abbotsford still holds a special place in his heart as the team that gave him an opportunity.

“In those days we were a young group and living on our own,” Bancks remembers fondly. “No more billets. I was able to build a lot of great friendships. It was a lot of fun being in Abbotsford with the guys. You go from riding buses in juniors to flying to games in the pros. Because Abbotsford was so out of the way, we did a lot of travelling to Austin, Texas and Houston and San Antonio, then jumping all the way to the midwest to Chicago. You’re no longer in Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Prince Albert.”

This upcoming season will be Carter’s fourth in Utica. His hard work and strong leadership has left an impression on the Comets which is why they named him their captain prior to the 2016-17 season. While Bancks is honoured to be the next in a long line of leaders in Utica, he credits the support of teammates Wacey Hamilton and Darren Archibald, as well guidance as former teammates Cal O’Reilly and Alex Biega to help Bancks become the leader that he is today.

“For me, the biggest thing is to earn the respect of your teammates right away through your play,” Bancks explains. “I was a big believer in ‘don’t talk the talk, walk the walk.’ Once you get people's respect they’ll listen. I’m definitely not a yeller or screamer. I like to build on positives and get guys fired up and feeling good about themselves.”

When you watch Bancks’ game, nobody can question whether he “walks the walk”. Listed at 5’11” and 185 pounds, Bancks is not the biggest player on the ice but you couldn’t tell that by the way he plays. He’s typically been one of the best penalty killers and matchup shutdown guys on every team he’s played on since junior.

“I’ve always liked guys who played the game hard,” Carter explained. “Growing up I really liked Mike Peca. I was a big fan of the way he played the game. He’s a hard-nosed player who played both ends of the ice.”

One of the players that Carter especially looks up to is AHL journeyman Quintin Laing. The two were teammates in Abbotsford and roommates on the road for three years. Bancks got to know him well both on and off of the ice, developing a huge amount of appreciation for his former captain.

“When I was younger I played a bit with Lainger,” Bancks recalled. “He was our captain in Abbotsford. He had around 60 games of NHL experience with Washington, but made it solely on guts and hard work. Not the most offensively-gifted player, but he didn’t take no for an answer. He basically willed his way to the NHL. He’s a guy that I had a tonne of respect for. When I played with him he was in his thirties with two kids and nothing had changed. He still did whatever it took to win.”

While Bancks has been able to beat the odds as an undrafted free agent, he puts a lot of stock in the help and guidance of his coaches. “In Abbotsford, I learned a lot from Jim Playfair and got a great opportunity to get comfortable and play meaningful minutes right away. I also played for Troy Ward and he was able to teach me a lot about the game. He was a really well-structured coach who taught me a lot about hockey as a whole. He was great with the x’s and o’s.”

One coach that definitely left an impression is Vancouver Canucks’ rookie coach Travis Green. “Playing for Greener over the past three years has been awesome. I was at a crossroads leaving Abbotsford and didn’t have a great last season there. Utica gave me a chance to be on a pretty good team and he gave me a chance to kill penalties, play against the other team’s top line, and do what was needed for us to succeed.”

Bancks’ hard play has not gone unnoticed.  At age 28 going into his ninth AHL season, his fourth in Utica, Carter is no longer surprising everyone with his tough play and grit. Over the past two seasons, Bancks was voted by his peers as the back-two-back winner of the Professional Hockey Players’ Association ‘Heart, Hustle, Desire Award’ presented to the player believed to best demonstrate heart, hustle, and desire each and every night, and considered by his peers to be the hardest working player in the league.

“It’s certainly what I’m most proud of out of my whole career. It was pretty cool to be voted by my peers. I didn’t know a whole heck of a lot about it until I won it last year. For your peers to vote you in and respect the way that you play the game--I’ve never been the most skilled and biggest player so I try to play with heart night in night out, and for me to be recognized by other players made it a really cool award to win.”

After a tough season where Utica missed out on the playoffs by three points, Bancks took to his hometown of Kimberly, British Columbia to unwind and regroup. After a long summer of golfing, hiking and mountain biking in the Rockiy Mountain, Carter is kicking his training into high gear. As he admits, “the only downside to Kimberly is you have to drive to Calgary to skate because we don’t get ice here until August. It’s just a four hour commute to Calgary, but I have family there which is nice.”

With training camp just around the corner, Bancks has his sights set on righting the ship and getting Utica back to the playoffs. “Anytime you miss playoffs it stings,” Carter admits. “Through the system you often have quite a few returning guys, and obviously new faces. I just kind of said to the guys ‘remember this feeling. It’s pro hockey and it’s not acceptable to miss the playoffs. Our goal as a team is to make the playoffs. Make the push and be a competitive, hard-working team.’”

While that night in Chicago may seem so long ago, Bancks’ passion for hockey burns brighter than ever. While the odds of him getting back to the NHL may seem stacked against him, Carter thrives on the doubt and small odds, so don’t count out a return just yet. In the meantime, he’s going to battle hard, push his team to be their best and worry more about Utica’s win total than his goal total.

 

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