Thunder Defenseman Carson Vance Ready to AdVance Game to Next Level
You don’t often think of Arizona as producing rising stars in the game of ice hockey, but Wichita Thunder defenseman Carson Vance is proving that he might be the exception. The Tempe, AZ resident is quickly acclimating himself to the rigors of professional hockey as he looks to advance to the next level in his hockey career while also helping his current team to overcome a tough spell.
Carson Vance Looking to Become the Exception
A quick quiz for you (Ya, I know, a quiz???). How many NHL players have been raised in the state of Arizona? If you said a handful, you would be correct. There have been just five, with Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk arguably being the most famous. The list also includes Sean Couturier and Ty Conklin, bringing the current total to five.
Arizona is not usually the place one considers when the subject of ice hockey is brought up. While the state has produced a number of exceptional baseball, basketball, and football stars, the lack of ice facilities has limited the opportunities for players to develop and succeed in the state. However, Wichita Thunder defenseman Carson Vance is looking to become the exception, forcing people to use two hands when they start counting how many NHL players have honed their skills in the state.
A Love Developed Early
Carson Vance was introduced to the sport when he was just two years old. The Arizona Coyotes became an NHL franchise in 1996, and Carson’s dad took him out to his first game. According to the defenseman, it was all “history from there.” While playing baseball and football, nothing competed with hockey. He loved the atmosphere and the brotherhood that developed in the sport.
Carson played a year of junior hockey in the Phoenix area, but reached as far as his development was going to within the state. In 2012-13, Vance chose to move to the North American Hockey League where he joined the Kenai River Brown Bears. Carson spent 55 games with the team, producing 10 points. The next season he played for the Janesville Jets for 53 games before moving to the USHL where he played with the Youngstown Phantoms.
That started a 3+ year career in the USHL, where the defenseman played for Youngstown, the Chicago Steel, the Muskegon Lumberjacks, the Dubuque Fighting Saints, the Tri-City Storm, and finally with the Sioux City Musketeers. In 168 career games in the league Carson produced 10 goals and 53 assists.
The move to the USHL was a challenging one. It was an opportunity for Vance to play hockey at a high level and the competition was exactly as he had hoped for.
“It’s a fun environment to be in. Everyone is trying to get to the next level – the players, the coaches. I played all over there. It was great hockey.
“It was a lot faster and different than anywhere else I had played. When you’re practicing with those guys every day it kind of forces you to step up your game and think smart and play fast. It wasn’t easy to translate but once you got yourself established, it’s a very fun league to play in.”
After completing his time in the juniors, the defenseman moved on to Western Michigan where he played two seasons for the team. His final year he moved to SUNY-Oswego where he played in 27 games, scoring four goals and adding 12 assists.
Carson majored in business during his time in college. With his family owning a successful trucking business, he wanted to ensure that he was getting the best education possible to be able to assist in the family business when he reached the next stage of his life. However, he also wanted to continue advancing in his hockey development. Western Michigan offered him that opportunity.
“You have to balance so many things and you have to manage your time a whole lot better. It was a lot more intense. My coach was Andy Murray who was a coach in the NHL for some time. So, he was hard on us, but in a good way. He was making you a better person, more of a leader, holding you accountable. It was very intense, and slow and fast at the same time. It was a blast.”
Carson AdVances to the Pros
After graduating, it was time for Carson Vance to move onto the next part of his hockey career. The defenseman signed with the Palmyra Enforcers in the FPHL where he played in five games before signing with the Huntsville Havoc of the SPHL. In 25 total games, Carson scored a goal and had six assists.
It was the kind of success that offered him the opportunity to get a look from ECHL clubs, and Vance was signed by the Fort Wayne Komets where he appeared in one game to start the 2021-22 season. Carson returned to the SPHL where he barely got his suitcase unpacked before the Wichita Thunder came calling.
“Coach Rammer (Bruce Ramsay) called me. I went to Fort Wayne for one day and then I went to Huntsville for a day. He called me that day and I was in the middle of the game, so I called him back. He told me that we have a great opportunity for you here to play in Wichita. I was just thrilled. I did some more research and talked to (former Thunder forward) Gordie Green. He told me how nice of a spot it was. You get treated unreal. It was a pretty easy decision coming here. Good coaches, good team, looking to establish a good resume to get ‘er going.”
With injuries and call ups depleting the Thunder roster, Carson found himself getting a significant amount of playing time right away. It also meant his defensive pairings changed on a regular basis, plus Carson had to learn a new system. There were definitely challenges ahead. However, because of the teaching ability of Coach Ramsay, the transition became a seamless one.
“The first week you’re learning the system, but Coach and the guys made it an easy transition. Here is I am working on getting better at focusing on my D-zone every day. It was a pretty easy transition, because the guys are great and the coaches are even better. I have been very fortunate to get an opportunity here.”
Hockey is unique from other sports in that one must become accustomed to the manner in which his defensive partner plays in order to be at his best. With players moving up to the AHL and others going down with significant injuries, Vance found himself rotating between six or seven other defensemen. Trying to build chemistry could have become a challenge, but he was quick to develop rapport through one key ingredient.
“Communication is key. Whenever you get a new D partner or you change lines during the game, you just got to communicate. If you do that, that solves a lot of issues. Communication and backing each other up. When problems arise, you have to communicate and be positive on the bench.”
The Pros Is No Joke
It took some time for Carson Vance to become comfortable and confident in his play. Coach Ramsay stuck with the rookie defenseman, giving him time to develop and become accustomed to the speed and talent of the league. That type of confidence has allowed Carson to develop, and he is seeing the fruit of his time with the team.
“The coaches bringing me in and giving me confidence has made a lot of difference. I am watching clips and seeing how much time and space I have to use my feet and my hands more, looking to make people miss. It’s just experience and using my skills more efficiently. Knowing when to jump and when to stay back.”
There have been some challenges along the way. The defenseman admits that it is the mental aspect of the game where he has had to improve the most.
“It took 10, 15, or 20 games to get used to the level of play. It starts in practice, coming to the rink amd getting better every day. I feel like in games it’s slowing down for me a little bit. I’m using my brain more and keeping my feet moving.”
While only recording two assists to this point, it is clear that the coaching staff is having far more confidence in the defenseman. On many shifts, he is pinching in the offensive zone, and has been fed the puck on several one-timer blasts from the point. It seems inevitable that Carson is going to start seeing a higher degree of offensive production.
His Real Purpose for Playing
While Carson Vance would love to be a 10-15 goal score on a regular basis and advance on to reach his dream of making it to the NHL, his purpose for playing the game he loves goes far beyond personal achievements. Carson loves the game of hockey, and feels a calling to help others to have that same kind of passion about the sport.
“I want to be an ambassador of the game. I want to make hockey more than just a game. There are young men and women that have found a passion. When you’re playing hockey there’s no bad days. I just want to help to be a good ambassador, and that starts by being a good person. Hockey is more than just a game. I want to have that kind of opportunity to help people experience the love of the game.”
The truth is that there are few players who have enjoyed playing hockey as much as Carson Vance. He loves being around his teammates, playing before the fans, and inspiring other youngsters in the state of Arizona to want to play hockey.
He also is looking to continue to boost the spirits of his teammates. The Wichita Thunder are in the biggest rut in team history, and it would be easy for this club to feel dejected. Despite being a rookie, Carson is dedicated to keeping the morale of his team focused on enjoying the sport he loves so much.
“The older guys, obviously being a rookie, they give it to us. I like to give it back. They enjoy it sometimes I think. I want to bring that good attitude and just make someone else’s day.”
In his first season in the ECHL Carson Vance is learning on the fly. He is now getting comfortable at the speed and talent level of the league, but he may not want to get too comfortable. With the rate of advancements, it would not be surprising to see him in Bakersfield or catching on with another AHL club. That could eventually help him to reach his ultimate goal of playing in the NHL one day. So, put both of your hands in the air. You may need two of them to count how many NHL players came from the state of Arizona.
All images used in this article courtesy of the Wichita Thunder/Super Ed Bailey
by Robert Pannier