By: Kelcee Kent (October 31, 2017)
For Appleton natives Trenton Bliss and Carver Watson the opportunity to play junior hockey so close to home is a surreal experience.
Bliss and Watson, both 19, started playing hockey together for the Jr. Gamblers AAA program. Their time together on the ice rink has led to an inseparable friendship and a mutual passion for the game of hockey.
Watson began his junior hockey career with the Madison Capitals in 2014 with his older brother Cooper. In his second season in the USHL, he was traded to the eventual Clark Cup Champion Tri-City Storm. In 2016-2017, Watson went north of the border, to play for the Chilliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League. The 2017 USHL Entry Draft brought Watson back home, as he was selected by the hometown Gamblers.
“It means a lot for me to be able to be here” said Watson. “I grew up watching the Gamblers play, and it’s incredibly special to be a part of that now.”
Watson has made an impact on the Gamblers blue line, highlighted by an overtime goal against Dubuque on October 7.
“Carver is extremely excited to be back in the area,” says Gamblers head coach Pat Mikesch. “He has played a lot of junior hockey and his experience has been a welcome addition.”
Watson will be following in the footsteps of his older brothers Cliff and Cooper when he arrives at Michigan Tech. Cliff was a two-year captain with the Huskies and Cooper is in his freshman campaign at Tech.
“I had the opportunity to play with Cooper in Madison (Capitols), so I think it will be a really cool experience to play hockey alongside him at Michigan Tech” said Watson. “It’s really special to be able to follow in my brothers’ footsteps but have independent paths.”
Along with their collegiate choice the Watson brothers also share a solid hockey pedigree. Cliff, 23, was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 6th round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Cliff is in his first professional season, playing alongside fellow Appleton native CJ Eick with the Utah Grizzlies of the East Coast Hockey League. Cooper, 21 had junior stops in Madison and Vernon, British Columbia, before making the jump to the collegiate ranks. The youngest Watson, Caden, 16, is playing hockey in Tampa, Florida.
Bliss played his high school hockey at Appleton United. In 2016, Bliss led Appleton United to their first state hockey title in program history.
“After a tough year of falling short of the title, it was an incredible feeling being a senior, to bring home that title to our community” said Bliss.
In 2016, Bliss was also named “Mr. Hockey”, an honor given out each season to the most outstanding player in the state as voted upon by the WHCA (Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association).
“It was really unexpected,” said Bliss “I missed about eight games of the season due to a knee injury, so it was a surreal experience in addition to the state championship title.”
Bliss’s first year in juniors had him splitting time with the Gamblers and the Coulee Region Chill of the North American Hockey League (NAHL). This season Bliss has been a mainstay in the Gamblers line-up. Through seven games, Bliss is tied for the team lead in goals (3) and tied for second in points (5). Bliss has also been instrumental in the Gamblers penalty kill, which ranks 2nd in the league in efficiency (88.2%).
“It’s a credit to Trenton to see the major steps he has taken as a player,” says Mikesch. Last year, Trenton was a player fighting to get in the line-up. This year, he is an impact guy, who plays in all situations.”
Playing for his hometown junior team is also a humbling experience for Bliss.
“I grew up seeing guys like Grant Arnold and C.J. Eick succeeding with the Gamblers, and to now be in their place, so close to my home is unreal” said Bliss. “Especially being able to play in front of local youth players and my community.”
Bliss attributes his hockey success to his family.
“It’s also really special for me to be able to play in front of my Mom and Grandma. Looking back when I was younger, I took a lot for granted, but I’m so thankful for everything they’ve done for me, especially my Mom.”
Looking towards the future, Bliss who is currently uncommitted hopes to play hockey at the collegiate and professional levels. Given Bliss’s early season success a college commitment appears to be inevitable.
For Bliss and Watson, it is both nostalgic and humbling to have started their careers as Jr. Gamblers to now playing at the junior level, as Green Bay Gamblers. Where their hockey careers go from here is still up in the air, but given their passion for the game, hard work and support systems, the future looks very bright.