Simon Snyman captains the Okanagan Hockey Academy Midget Prep Red. Snyman will make the jump to the junior A level with the BCHL’s Trail Smoke Eaters. Mark Brett/Western News

VIDEO: Snyman steady on blueline for OHA Midget Prep Red

Simon Snyman credits his coach Robert Dirk for helping him become a better defenceman.

Simon Snyman credits his coach Robert Dirk for helping him become a better defenceman.

Dirk, coach of the Okanagan Hockey Academy Midget Prep Red team, played 441 games in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks and Montreal Canadiens. Snyman, a product of the Penticton Minor Hockey Association, said Dirk helped him with his puck management skills. Encouraged him not to panic with the puck and to take his time making plays with confidence.

“It’s great because he knows all the rules. He has been the most influential coach in my hockey career,” said Snyman.

Snyman said he has progressed a lot and is playing with more confidence. He’s getting his feet going in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League playoffs, Helping his team pick up a 5-2 win over Northern Alberta Xtreme on March 15 and a 3-0 win over Delta, March 16. In that win, he collected an assist on Carson Erhardt’s winning goal.

Entering the season Snyman’s goal was to play well enough to catch the attention of a BCHL team and play at the junior A level next fall. He accomplished that a month into the season, committing to the Trail Smoke Eaters. Playing for the Kootenay-based team was a good fit because the coaching staff treated him well and made him feel like he was at home.

“Just the way they acted around me made me feel a part of the team right away,” said Snyman, 17. The blueliner, listed at five-foot-nine, 165 pounds, suited up for two games as an affiliate player for the Smoke Eaters. One was against the Penticton Vees.

“It was really good, especially playing in Penticton against my hometown,” said Snyman, captain of his OHA squad. “There was a lot of fans there and it was a great atmosphere. It was really fun.” Getting a taste of junior hockey was a good feeling for Snyman, who dreamed of that since joining the OHA in 2014-15. “It’s nice getting that opportunity,” he said.

Dirk said the Smoke Eaters like Snyman’s skating ability and that he is steady on the backend. Chipping in offensively may have to wait until he is 19 or 20, but Dirk believes he can be a top-four shutdown guy.

In the opening of the CSSHL playoffs, Dirk said Snyman was solid and when he plays that way, he is effective. “He thinks the game. When he makes that step next year, it’s thinking the game faster,” said Dirk, adding that Snyman will give himself a chance to be an effective defenceman at junior A. “There’s some kids here this weekend that skate better than guys in the NHL, but they think the game faster. They know what to do with the puck as soon as they get it. That’s the difference as you move up the ladder in the hockey world.”

Naming Snyman captain was easy. Dirk went against his usual process and had it done by player vote. It was unanimous.

“The only vote that he didn’t get was himself. He voted for somebody else,” said Dirk. “I was 95 per cent sure I was going to make him captain. When everybody voted for him, it was a pretty obvious choice. He’s got the respect by his teammates.”