2019 Stanley Cup Champion Colton Parayko, a former hockey captain and standout defenseman for the University of Alaska Fairbanks from 2012-2015, returned to the Patty Ice Arena from Tuesday to Friday to host a youth hockey camp. The camp, in its second year, was open to boys ages 8-12 and girls 8-14. All proceeds were donated to the Nanooks hockey program.

One of the biggest lessons Parayko was hoping to teach the young skaters is to enjoy the game and develop friendships, both of which proved vital to Parayko’s career. Without them, the St. Louis Blues defenseman might have retired his skates before college.

When Parayko was 16, and playing in Midget AA at home in St. Albert, Alberta, many of his friends were already playing in Juniors (two levels above Parayko) and some had even been drafted to the NHL.

Fast forward 10 years, and Parayko is the only one with an NHL career.

“I was almost thinking maybe I should stop hockey and start focusing on getting a job,” said Parayko after Thursday’s camp session. “But I enjoyed the game and I just wanted to continue no matter what level I was. Even though I wasn’t at the top level, I still had a lot of friends ... and I just enjoyed going to the rink every day and spending time with them.”

It wasn’t long after that, Parayko received what could have been the biggest break in his career.

Despite Parayko’s shaky skating abilities, his AA coach still recommended him for a Junior tryout even though he never played at the Midget AAA level. Skipping a level entirely is rare.

“It took me a while to get my skating together, but you can’t teach size, I guess,” said Parayko, who now stands at 6-feet-6-inches and 230 pounds. “He just kind of was like this is big guy that could maybe be a good defender and take up a lot of space. So he just did me a favor. ... He was friends with the coach in Junior and he gave me a chance to get a tryout.”

Parayko’s skating skills have since improved, enough so to win the NHL’s highest prize. But no step between getting a Junior tryout and holding the Stanley Cup in June seemed anything less than a true achievement for Parayko, which was one of the reasons he didn’t hesitate committing to the first college to offer him a scholarship.

“Coming out of AA I wasn’t even expecting to make Junior ... so to get a scholarship opportunity at a school was obviously really cool. When I got the offer to come here it was the coolest thing ever, so I took it.”

While at UAF, Parayko recorded 19 goals and 84 assists for 103 points in 242 career games. He was also a two-time Western Collegiate Hockey Association Defensive Player of the Year and an All-WCHA First Team selection. He also graduated with a degree in business administration, something he plans to put to use at the conclusion of his hockey career. 

“It would be cool to own a business or be part of a business or something of some sort. I really like flying so maybe like a helicopter pilot doing tours or something.”

As in any sport, some of the young athletes at this week’s camp performed better than others. But Parayko’s advice for all of them remained the same. 

“Just continue and push forward, because you never know what could happen. I got a break in my way, but just continue to have fun. That’s why I started to play and that’s why I continue to play because I’m just having fun with my friends.”

Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.