Justin Valentino has taken a long journey to his professional hockey days and for years, he called the Parkland region his home. Originally from Thompson, he joined the Swan Valley Stampeders in the 2011-2012 season full-time after he played eight games with the team in the prior season.
After 169 games with the Stamps', Valentino made the move two hours south as he joined the Dauphin Kings at the end of the 2013-2014 season, one in which the Kings played in the Western Canada Cup and Royal Bank Cup which is now the Centennial Cup.
The Thompson native would make an immediate impact with Dauphin as he had 20 regular-season points with the team which was followed with another three goals and three assists in 13 playoff games.
In the Western Canada Cup, Valentino had seven assists in six games and he added one more assist in five games at the Royal Bank Cup. In all, the former Norman Northstar collected 34 points during his time with the City of Sunshine's junior hockey organization.
That run to the Royal Bank Cup was Justin's final as a junior hockey player, but he wasn't done with hockey nor his studies. He signed on to play with the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns men's hockey team and he became an everyday player from the very first game as he played in 28 games in each of the five seasons he spent at the U of L. During a 140 game stint with the Club, Justin racked up 41 goals and 55 assists.
"Those were honestly five of the best years of my life. I know the team didn't enjoy as much success as we would have hoped, but I loved every minute of it," said Valentino. "It was tough at the start balancing school with hockey, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly and it was pretty smooth after a while. Lethbridge taught me so much and I'm grateful that I was given the opportunity to play with them and go to school there."
After a two-game exit from the playoffs in the 2019 playoffs, Justin's USports career officially came to an end. At this point, he would have to find a professional contract if he wanted to continue playing elite hockey and a team from France came knocking at his door.
Briançon who play in the France non-elite league signed the Thompson native to a contract; however, his days in France didn't last long. He only played eight games with the team where he had four points, one of which was a goal before he was released from his contract. From there, Valentino didn't actually have a plan. He would end up going to Hungary to stay with a friend and he was just about to come back to Manitoba.
"It was definitely a roller coaster ride. Nothing happened overnight, I just had to stay patient and hope something would come up," said Valentino.
There's a saying "patience is a virtue". And Justin's patience did end up paying off as he was signed by the Podhale Nowy Targ men's team in Poland so he packed up his bags and made the move.
"I was really grateful that I got this opportunity, I was hoping something would come up and I was lucky enough that something did," offered Valentino.
After a solid start point production-wise to his professional days in France, Valentino would continue with that success in Poland where he would score eight goals and add nine assists in 30 regular-season games.
The Club would go 24-13 which earned them a spot in the playoffs. In the end, the team lost in the quarterfinals which officially put an end to Valentino's first professional season.
"It was a roller coaster ride with quite a few ups and downs. I just tried to learn as much as I could every day," said Valentino. "Am I satisfied with the production, yes, but I think you always want and expect more from yourself."
Those six playoff games are also something that Valentino won't forget as he embarks on a new journey.
"It was crazy, it's almost like a soccer game," he said. "You can't even talk on the ice, it's so loud on the ice, and all the fans are so passionate. You have to scream at players just to get their attention, that really was amazing getting that chance and I'll cherish it."
After a memorable year overseas in France and Poland, Valentino is coming back to the country he was born in and his dream of continuing his professional hockey career will continue as well. Justin has signed a Standard Player Contract with the Brampton Beast, a member of the ECHL.
The ECHL (formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League) is a mid-level professional ice hockey league with just two Canadian teams with the other being in Newfoundland. The ECHL is two levels below the NHL with the AHL being the next jump before the NHL. The Beast play in the North Division alongside the Growlers, Reading Royals, Adirondack Thunder, Maine Mariners, and the Worcester Railers. The team plays 36 games at home and 36 on the road to make up a 72 game regular-season schedule.
Brampton went 34-25-3 last season which gave them 71 points, nine less than Reading who occupied the final playoff spot in the division.
The ECHL has put a tentative start date on the 2020-2021 season with things set to begin on December 4 with each team still playing the full 72 games.
"I'm really looking forward to this new opportunity in Brampton," said Valentino. "I can't wait for the season to get going when it gets going. I'll get on the ice as much as possible so I can stay in shape and be ready for when camp starts up."
When the season does eventually start up, Valentino knows that there will be another learning curve. He did endure a fair amount of travel while playing junior hockey and through his five years in Lethbridge and last year overseas. However, this year's season will be like none other when it comes to travel.
From January 5 to January 12 last season, Brampton played five games. They made stops to play the Orlando Solar Bears, Florida Everblades, South Carolina Stingrays, the Jacksonville Icemen, and the Atlanta Gladiators. The team spent more than 40 hours on a bus travelling to those games and they covered nearly 6000 kilometres in a matter of a week.
The above is just a little insight into how much travel Valentino will go through this upcoming season. When asked about if he's ready for that he said he is and he's also expecting a solid first season in the ECHL.
"My biggest expectation is just being consistent. I want to be that kind of guy every day whether it's at practice or at a game," ended Valentino. "I'll do whatever it takes to help this team win games and we'll see how things go."
Justin began his competitive hockey days with the Norman Northstars in the 2009-2010 season. His journey continued to Swan Valley where he played with the Stamps' before he was given a chance to play at a national championship with the Kings. Now six years after he began his university career with Lethbridge, Valentino's wild ride is set to continue and now, we just hope that December 4 is the day when play can resume in the ECHL.