Kabore Dunn just needed a chance to prove what he can do.
The 18-year-old Mill Bay product travelled a winding road before he finally secured a spot with a Canadian junior A team, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Given the opportunity to play at that level, the six-foot-two defenceman made the best of it, attracting the attention of pro scouts and making NHL Central Scouting’s list of Players to Watch for the 2020 Entry Draft, the most recent edition of which was released on Nov. 11, the day after Dunn’s 18th birthday.
“It’s pretty cool,” Dunn said of cracking the vaunted list. “I don’t think I can really realize it right now. Hopefully one day I can look back and appreciate all the attention I’ve been getting this year. I don’t want to look too far ahead. There’s always something else ahead to do.”
Along with drawing the attention of pro scouts, Dunn has also secured a scholarship to the University of Maine starting next fall. With the Black Bears, he’ll be joining a program with a legacy of NCAA success which produced Hall-of-Famer Paul Kariya and current NHL stars like Ben Bishop and Gustav Nyquist.
“It’s exciting,” Dunn said. “I’m really lucky to be able to go to a program that’s so historic and hopefully go from there.”
After starting with Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey, Dunn made his way to Shawnigan Lake School from 2015 to 2017, then played the next two years with different teams in the U.S. A couple of junior A teams south of the border expressed interest in him, and he attended their camps, but nothing came of it.
“I ended up not making those teams, which was shocking,” he recalled. “That motivated me to be better.”
Dunn also went to the Cowichan Valley Capitals spring ID camp. He was invited to their fall training camp, but decided to look elsewhere.
“They told me I wouldn’t play much,” he said. “I wasn’t the kind of player they were looking for.”
He was invited to Fort McMurray by Bob Beatty, the Oil Barons’ head coach at the start of the current season. Beatty had coached the Cowichan Valley Capitals from 2013 to 2017, and Dunn had gone to his practices once in a while, so the coach knew what to expect. Dunn made the cut, and proved right away he belonged.
A stick boy with the Caps when he was much younger, Dunn enjoys playing at the level he watched so much of as a kid.
“It’s cool,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a dream come true because I have goals higher than playing junior hockey. But I got to learn a lot just from watching games.”
Dunn is the Oil Barons’ top-scoring defenceman with 28 points on nine goals and 19 assists through 49 games, while racking up 66 penalty minutes. He was named Defensive Player of the Week earlier this season, and went on a seven-game point streak in December.
“I think I’m doing a lot of things well,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m content. I want to be better, to play better. I don’t want to stop working on my game.”
Dunn is still hoping to improve his defensive game, consistency, and physical strength.
“I know I have to be more consistent to be successful at higher levels,” he said.
Last month, Dunn skated in the CJHL Prospects Game in Hamilton along with the other top draft-eligible junior A players in the country, including former minor hockey teammate and current Cowichan Valley Capitals star Luciano Wilson.
“It was really fun,” Dunn commented. “It was great to meet kids from all over the country and play with them.”
Being there with Wilson, with whom he still hangs out in the summer, made the event more comfortable.
“We weren’t roommates but we got to hang out a lot,” Dunn said. “It would have been hard going to that event not knowing anyone there.”
As the AJHL regular season winds down, Dunn is trying to improve his draft stock.
“I’ll try to get better every day,” he said. “I try to realize how important every opportunity to get on the ice is. My goal at the end of the year is to get drafted. Even if that doesn’t happen, I know I’m going in the right direction.”