Junior Oilers forward Brayton Van Gotum (Waddell, AZ) and goaltender Justin Lindgren (Hanahan, SC) have each moved halfway across the country to pursue their hockey dreams. Brayton, 18, and Justin, 20, didn’t know each other three weeks ago. Now, they’re teammates and roommates in a new city trying to take the next step in their personal careers while helping build the Junior Oilers into an elite team in the WSHL.
Brayton and Justin recently sat down to share their thoughts on what the experience in Tulsa has been like so far.
Q: There are so many places to play junior hockey around the country, what made you want to come to Tulsa and what did your parents think of your decision?
Brayton: “I wanted to move and I was ready to get out of Arizona. I wanted to get away from home to be in a different environment and see how I would do on my own. My dad was very supportive, my mom was more reluctant. She didn’t want me to go but she knew it was the right thing for me to do.”
Justin: “I had some reservations at first because the whole situation sounded a little too good to be true but once I got here, it was definitely worth. This is my third year away from home now so my parents weren’t too bad with the decision. My mom still breaks down every time I leave home, but they’re both very supportive.”
Q: When you told people back home that you were going to Oklahoma for hockey, what was the reaction?
Justin: “There were lots of ‘why’s?’ but my immediate family was happy for me because they knew the move was all about me trying something new. I’ve been places where I knew people, but I wanted to start fresh somewhere.”
Brayton: “Most people ask, ‘Why Tulsa?’ For me, it’s a great opportunity and I’ve known Coach Zac since I was 15. I needed a place to play, some of my family is from the South, so this just made sense.
Q: Do you ever feel like you’re missing out on the college experience?
Justin: “No, not really. I love that I’m doing something different. I’m still taking classes but it’s not every day that you get to do what you love to do. I love playing hockey and I’m glad I made this decision.”
Brayton: “I applied to Northern Arizona University, and if I didn’t’ make a junior team that’s probably where I would have ended up but now I’m glad I didn’t go straight to college. I’m really going to enjoy this experience while it lasts.”
Q: What was the first week of training camp like?
Brayton: “I went into it thinking it would be a five-day scrimmage, but we ended up doing drills which was very different than some teams I’ve been on in the past. I think it was more beneficial to the team because if we were scrimmaging on day one, we’d be playing as individuals and not as a team. It gave us a better sense of the style Coach Zac wants to play and better sense of what kind of talent we really have.”
Q: Justin, how did you get started playing goalie and how mentally strong do you have to be to play the position?
Justin: “One day our goalie didn’t show up for a game and my coach asked me if I wanted to give it a shot. I put on the pads and fell in love with it and I haven’t looked back. I like it because it’s so intense and it’s definitely a rush. I can definitely dwell on a bad goal or a bad loss. I hold a lot on my shoulders after a game but the next day is a new day and you have to wake up ready for it. You have to acquire a short memory and that’s something I’m picking up along the way.”
Q: Brayton, how long does it take for a team to develop solid chemistry on the ice?
Brayton: “It usually takes three to four weeks. It’s only been a couple weeks for us but we’re already starting to get our lines together, our defense pairings are looking good, and we already know each other’s games pretty well. We’re definitely coming together a lot faster than some teams I’ve been on in the past.”
Q: What is life like with your billet family?
Justin: “It’s different at first, but our billet parents (Jim and Billye Reich) are very welcoming and very supportive. They make us feel right at home just like we’re their own kids. It’s working out good with Brayton because we have the same appetites and we both like making 2 a.m. ice cream runs. If I didn’t have a billet family, I’d just have to scavenge around on my own, so I think we’re pretty lucky.”
Brayton: “I’d be in some serious trouble if I didn’t have a billet family. I’d be eating a cup of noodles every night. Our billet parents are great and I enjoy having a roommate because I know I’ll make a lifelong friend.”
Q: Through the first few weeks of practice, several of the Tulsa Oilers players have been on the ice with you. What is it like to skate with professionals?
Justin: “It’s a lot of fun. It’s a good challenge for all of us and I get to see what I have to look forward to in my career. I find myself comparing my skills to their skills and it gives me a better idea of what I need to improve.”
Brayton: “It makes practice much more challenging. It’s not easy trying to keep up with those guys during drills.”
Q: What are your goals for the future?
Brayton: “Hopefully next year I can go to the NAHL, move on to college and possibly play in Europe one day. My high school coach played pro hockey in Europe and he always talked about what a great experience he had. He made me want to try it and hopefully I get that chance.”
Justin: “This is my last year of junior hockey and I hope to go to college or play at the pro level somewhere down the line.”
Q: What are your impressions of Tulsa?
Brayton: “Back home I had to drive 30 minutes to go anywhere, but here everything you need is close by. Coming from Arizona, everything is pretty dry and brown, so it’s nice to see some green and some leaves on the trees.”
Justin: “It reminds me of Charleston minus the humidity. Like Brayton said, you don’t have to go far to find what you need, everything is very convenient.”
Q: How will you spend your free time?
Justin: “I’m sure we’ll spend lots of time with our billets, they’re very family oriented.”
Brayton: “There will be lots of sleeping. We’ll probably watch a lot of movies, go to the gym, and eat a ton of carbs.”
The Junior Oilers begin the season on the road September 21st against the Dallas Ice Jets and will play their home opener at the Oilers Ice Center on October 12th against the Texas Junior Brahmas. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for children ages five and under. Tickets can be purchased at the Oilers Ice Center on the day of the game or by calling 918-632-PUCK.