‘I’m so grateful and blessed’: Caiden Daley signing off on distinguished WHL career
“This is a story that I’m sure a lot of people would probably want to hear.”
Caiden Daley lit up the moment he was asked about the trade which sent him from the Regina Pats to the Saskatoon Blades.
It came on January 10th of 2020; the WHL Trade Deadline, which, for any player, is always a little unnerving.
“We were on our US road trip with Regina,” said the 20-year-old over a Zoom call from his home in Winnipeg, MB. “We were about two hours away from Tri-City, just sitting on the bus like normal, and there’s like 10 minutes left in the trade deadline.”
Daley, along with a few other teammates, were at the back of Regina’s team bus playing cards and joking around with one another, doing what they could to take their minds off the looming deadline and let it pass without any added drama.
“One of the guys turns to me and says ‘hey, coach wants to see you,'” he continued. “I’m like ‘man, not a day to be joking about this, there’s literally five minutes left in the trade deadline.’ He says ‘no man, look, he’s at the front of the bus!'”
Sure enough, there stood Dave Struch beckoning Daley to march his way to the front, phone in hand.
Daley trotted his way up the entire length of the 60-seat bus and answered the phone. It was Pats general manager John Paddock.
“I pick up the phone and he says ‘hey Caiden, we’re here to inform you that we’re going to be trading you to a contender,'” he said.
Daley’s mind started racing.
“Am I going to the States? Am I going to BC? John didn’t say right off the bat,” he exclaimed, noting he thought there was a chance he’d be heading back to the Brandon Wheat Kings, the team which sent him to Regina earlier that season.
When he found out he was heading to Saskatoon, he was thrilled at the opportunity. He had several connections, including previous playing time with captain Chase Wouters in summer training camps, along with head coach Mitch Love and associate coach Ryan Marsh with their time at the World U17 Hockey Challenge two years prior.
But the journey to the Bridge City was hardly far from over.
“First I was like ‘why couldn’t we have done this before we got on the road trip,” laughed Daley.
The team arrived in Tri-City later that afternoon. Daley joined the crew for one last dinner, along with a few celebratory well-wishes at the hotel before calling it a night. He woke up bright and early for a flight from Tri-City to Seattle, with plans to connect on a second flight to Calgary that morning.
“I got off the plane (in Seattle) and I was a little late,” he said. “So there I was, running across the airport to catch my next flight, but the boarding gate was closed.”
Daley missed his flight to Calgary.
“I had to reconvene, run across the airport again and try to find another flight from Seattle to Calgary.”
Daley managed to flag down a ticket to Calgary later that afternoon, giving him a few hours to rest up and put his mind at ease before boarding.
There was one major issue, however. His luggage, including all of his hockey gear, sticks, and skates, was now on a direct path to Cow Town with no one available to pick it up.
“I eventually got to Calgary, and had to wait for around five hours before heading to Regina,” he said, mentioning his luggage was nowhere to be found. “Flew from Calgary to Regina, and the plan was to try and make the game against Prince George the next night (after the deadline) but it was just a mess.”
Daley spent that night with his billets in Regina before hitting the road to Saskatoon the next morning. His equipment, on the other hand, gone without a trace.
“I didn’t have equipment for like five days, it was roaming the world somewhere,” he chuckled. “We had no idea, we’d check in every day and still nothing.
“I remember picture day was the following Wednesday and I obviously had nothing. (Equipment manager Riley Kosmolak) was literally throwing gear together. I think I had Graf skates that were way too small. I had to mosey on out on the ice and take the picture, it was just a mess.”
Daley’s equipment finally arrived the following Friday, one week after he received the news he was the newest member of the longest-lasting franchise in the WHL.
“I had enough time to get in one practice, maybe two practices, and play my first game the next night. I was off and running,” he said.
Off and running on the final chapter in his WHL livelihood.
Although it wasn’t a smooth transition into a Blades uniform, Daley poured his heart into 46 appearances in blue and gold to cap off an impressive 283-game career.
“It was awesome to wrap it up with the Blades and such a first-class organization,” he stated, having played all 24-games in a COVID-rendered 2021 season in Regina’s Hub Centre. “I had so much fun and some amazing memories from my time being there. I was really happy with the end.”
Now 20-years-old and more than a half-decade of amazing memories to look back on, Daley has spent this off-season looking back some of the finer moments of his career.
His first introduction to junior hockey came in the 2015 WHL Bantam Entry Draft, when the Brandon Wheat Kings called his name 22nd overall.
“I talked to them the night before briefly, and told me if I was available (at 22), they were probably going to pick me,” he said. “Brandon was the last pick of the first round and I saw my name come up. It was really exciting just knowing how world-class of an organization they are and it’s pretty close to home, so it wrapped up pretty nicely for me and my family.”
Brandon was coming off a tremendous 54-11-4-4 campaign, which took them to the WHL Final against the champion Kelowna Rockets. The Wheaties were poised for another deep playoff run that next season, complete with the heavy scoring prowess of Reid Duke, Stelio Mattheos, and Nolan Patrick.
“The coaching staff and the players really helped me right off the start to develop my game. It was pretty amazing how all of the guys took me in and really help me on and off the ice with everything I needed,” he said.
Daley was called up from major midget for his WHL debut on December 27th of 2015, and would dress in four following contests to reach the maximum allotted as a new draft pick in the league. That following spring, after the Wheat Kings captured their second straight division crown, he was called up to join the team for the rest of their playoff run and march towards the Memorial Cup.
It ended with one of his most prized memories in junior hockey.
“I didn’t play, but in the final game of the championship series when Brandon won, I got to go on the ice and celebrate with the team,” he smiled. “That series was pretty crazy with a lot of star power and playing against Seattle.
“I remember the scratches had to get ready and throw equipment on with 10 minutes left just in case they won. In the dying seconds, we were by the glass and got to skate out and celebrate with the guys. I even got to hoist the cup up and have my name engraved on it.”
Daley would go on to play more than three seasons, piling up 56 points, in Brandon before he was dealt to Regina early in the 2019-20 season.
His tenure in a Pats uniform lasted a mere 25 games before his week of chaos in joining the Blades, and ultimately playing out his final chapter in major junior.
Regarded as one of the fastest skaters across the junior hockey landscape, Daley signs off with 32 goals and 92 points to his name. His career opened doors to skate with some of Canada’s top junior hockey players, including representing his home country as an assistant captain in the 2016 World U17 Hockey Challenge.
He lit lamps in barns all over western Canada and parts of the United States — one of which located in the now-bulldozed Stampede Corral against the Calgary Hitmen in 2019.
“It was so weird,” he said. “Their dressing room was underground, the stands were super slanted and so high up, the benches were different and the end-boards were like square corners.
“I remember I scored a goal there… I was just buzzing up the ice on a partial two-on-one and ripped one far side, I think it was to start the game too. The crowd was going crazy and there were a lot of people there. That was one of my favourites.”
For Daley, it always seemed he played his best in Calgary, no matter which team he was with or building they were out of. Another hallmark tally came later that same season with Brandon, finishing off a pretty move over the blue-line and stripping a few Hitmen defenders.
“I was one-on-one with one of the d-men, slipped it through his stick and got it to the net and threw it five-hole,” he smiled. “It was like slow-motion going in. I was watching it, watching it, watching it and it finally went in. It’s weird, I just always felt great playing in Calgary.”
Fast forward to this past spring. Daley, one of three alternate captains for the Blades, leading his teammates into the confines of a hub environment in Regina for 24 games against their closest division rivals.
He was a key piece to the Blades 16-5-2-1 record and a third-place finish in the East Division standings, piling up seven goals and 14 points over the 24 games.
It all ended on April 28th in a 5-2 victory over the very team that launched his career — the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Emotions began pouring in as the game wound into the final few minutes.
“We played a great game to end it off, and obviously getting a win was huge,” he said. “I remember turning to Chase (Wouters) on the bench with like a minute left. I just looked at him and said ‘man, it’s all over!’ I was shedding some tears on the bench and coach Love threw me out there! My eyes were watering and I literally couldn’t see for my last shift. It was kind of funny, but it was also awesome to wrap it up with the Blades and such a first-class organization. I had so much fun and some amazing memories from my time being there, so I was really happy with the end.”
After the final buzzer, Daley took a moment to shake hands with some of his former teammates and coaches in Brandon, thanking them for their help in starting his career.
“It was a really nice touch seeing them and seeing some of the guys who I played with for four years,” he added. “It was a pretty surreal moment how it all ended.”
His esteemed career comes to a close and will certainly open up a new chapter that has yet to be decided on, whether it’s venturing into university, or testing his luck as a professional. Daley’s natural talent, charming personality, and admirable leadership qualities will surely be missed in the Blades organization.
He says none of these qualities, or his long-lasting career, was possible without his support system, who’ve helped him become the young man he is today and navigate the uncertainty (and airport travel) of playing in the Western League.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now without my family, my friends, my billet parents with every city I played in,” he continued. “The coaching staffs and organizations… it’s pretty amazing coming in as a 15-year-old and now reflecting as a 20-year-old. All the people that you’ve met and supported you along the way. I’m so grateful and blessed for having all that support, and having everyone back me and what I did on the ice and off the ice. The support was unbelievable, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am without it.”