(Courtesy of Perry Bergson, The Brandon Sun) — Three years of Cale Jefferies’ life as a teenager have had an outsized impact on everything that came after.
Jefferies, now 28, played 166 regular season games and 26 Western Hockey League playoff games in three seasons between 2006 and 2009.
“When I think back, it was a chance of a lifetime,” Jefferies said. “I think I matured moving away from home, I made some of the best friends that I have on that team in three years, I met my wife at Crocus Plains in Brandon, so that was obviously special.
“I think the whole time there, you take it for granted when you’re living in it but those days were good.”
He still stays in touch with Keith Aulie, his then roommate Del Cowan, Darren Bestland, Andrew Clark, Matt Lowry and Mark Stone.
The Glenboro product took up the game around age four, playing his minor hockey locally.
Jefferies remembers attending Wheat Kings games as part of his birthday parties as a youngster with several of his friends.
“It was always a dream to play in the Western Hockey League,” Jefferies said. “I don’t know when I kind of realized that I could potentially play.”
He knew he wasn’t a top prospect but thought he had a chance of being picked in the 2004 WHL bantam draft because of his size. Still, he didn’t really expect it to happen.
He found out he had been selected in perfect farmboy fashion.
After school he hopped on the bus, and lost track of the draft, which he had been casually following at school.
“I got dropped off at the end of the lane and my mom (Wanda) was jogging towards me and said ‘You got picked!’” he remembers. “I had my backpack and was walking home and said ‘What do you mean I got picked?’ She said ‘The Wheat Kings took you in the ninth round.’ I was floored. I was so excited.”
It proved to be a good choice for the Wheat Kings, with Jefferies playing the fifth-most WHL games for a Brandon ninth rounder in bantam draft history, behind Darryl Boyle (selected in 2002, 262 games), Brent Hobday (1994, 251 games), Josh Garbutt (1999, 196 games) and Quintin Lisoway (2010, 171 games).
He knew he belonged when he attended his first prospects camp in the spring of 2004. Jefferies hadn’t been on the ice for a while because it was seeding time on the farm.
“I got there and it wasn’t like I forgot how to play,” he said. “I thought I fit in well.”
Jefferies played his 16-year-old season with the midget AAA Southwest Cougars, working on his skating and strength.
In the summer before his 17-year-old season, he would drive into Brandon at 5:30 in the morning for workouts and then went to his job at the Glenboro golf course to pay for his training.
The hard work paid off, as he made the Wheat Kings that winter.
“I remember sitting down with (general manager and owner) Kelly (McCrimmon) and he said, ‘You’re not going to play every game, but I think you’re really going to improve staying here. We would like to have you.’ At that point in my life, it was a dream come true.”
Jefferies knew he would never be a big goal scorer — he ended up with 12 goals, 26 assists and 147 penalty minutes in 166 games — instead settling into a role as a crash-and-bang energy guy.
He remembers bits and pieces of that year such as his first goal, which came in a 9-2 victory against the host Prince George Cougars on Nov. 1, 2006 with assists from Jay Fehr and Bryan Kauk.
It was also a transition to playing with a visor, dealing with the long bus trips, and even moving in with billets and starting school at Crocus Plains.
“It was all very new to me and I just kind of went with the flow,” he chuckles.
Jefferies grew into his role, and became a dependable checker. But it was his work ethic that always stood out.
“I always tried to give an honest effort and work on things that I was slated to be important on the team for,” he said. “I think that I was more of a character player, looking back at it now. I never maybe thought I was at the time, but if I saw myself play now, that’s what I would classify myself as.”
During his time in Brandon he was inducted into the Glenboro Minor Sports Wall of Fame, something he considers a nice honour.
Jefferies’s overage year happened to be the 2009-10 season, with Brandon hosting the Memorial Cup in the spring. He said general manager Kelly McCrimmon was honest with him after his 19-year-old season, telling him there wouldn’t be a spot for him but offering to try to find a team for him somewhere in the league.
The six-foot-three, 200-pound forward was also offered an opportunity to play at the University of Guelph, and decided it was a good fit after visiting the campus.
“I told the Wheat Kings that I had made a decision that I would use the scholarship money and play my 20-year-old year at university,” Jefferies said. “That was a big decision and a hard one too but I thought it was an important one and a good opportunity.”
Jefferies played 124 Canadian Interuniversity Sports (now U Sports) games over five seasons with the Gryphons. He said three years of WHL scholarship money certainly helped his university experience.
“It was very easy to use, there were no complications or questions,” he said. “It helped a lot. I’m glad that I had it, even if I didn’t think about it when I was 17 and was going to the NHL and wouldn’t need it. I’m sure grateful for that financial support.”
It’s apparent that Jefferies’ unflagging work ethic didn’t end with his hockey career.
After graduating from Guelph with honours in agricultural economics, he returned to join his father Ron in the family business, Jefferies Seeds Ltd., on the family’s fifth-generation farm, along with his brother Riley.
“I was very grateful to have a business to go back to and be included in the family business,” Jefferies said. “It’s been great. It’s been a good decision.”
He’s also awed by the family’s legacy on the farm, which was started in 1896 by his great great grandpa Sid.
“You step back and look at it, and it’s quite powerful, that history,” Jefferies said. “It’s something that I’m very proud of and happy to be a part of.”
He and his wife Hailey (nee Williamson) married in 2015, and have started Prairie Fava, a company which began processing and marketing fava bean products such as flour, flakes and dehulled beans earlier this year. It also serves as a link between growers and food manufacturing companies seeking sources of plant-based protein.
“That’s been an awesome journey,” Jefferies said. “She’s very entrepreneurial minded and so am I, so it was a good fit. We noticed a bit of a trend in the health phase and food and plant-based protein, so we thought we would do something there.”
Jefferies said it’s time consuming and faces the same challenges as any startup business but he enjoys it.
He’s also found ways to give back to the agriculture industry.
A director of the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association, he was recently elected as secretary/treasurer by the Canadian Wheat Research Coalition, which describes itself as a not-for-profit corporation that “will facilitate long-term investments aimed at improving profitability and competitiveness for Canadian wheat farmers.”
If that’s not enough, he’s also involved in a tree-farm operation with Gord Peters and his brother that saw them plant 50,000 seedlings as a future investment. They may branch into Christmas trees eventually, but Jefferies notes he’s also benefited in a different way. He’s learned a lot from Peters, a longtime Brandon businessman, describing him as a mentor.
Despite his business interests, he served as an assistant coach with the Southest Midget AAA Cougars for one season and also finds time to play senior hockey, suiting up with the Wawanesa Jets this season in the Tiger Hills Hockey League.
“I still enjoy hockey,” Jefferies said. “Sometimes when business gets stressful it’s a good way to have fun and kick back. There was no beer drinking in the Western Hockey League. Unfortunately it’s (now) come to that point where there are some beers after. It’s something new but it’s fun.”