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Mekai Sanders excited for chance to play with hometown Thunderbirds

Mekai Sanders (right) was drafted by the Thunderbirds in the ninth round of the Bantam Draft (Heather Sanders)

This past Thursday was not your run of the mill weekday for Mekai Sanders. The Gig Harbor resident was parked in front of a computer in his father’s office to watch a live stream of the WHL Bantam Draft. Like many young hockey players, he was hoping to hear his name called.

“I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” Sanders says. “I was just hoping for the best.”

When the ninth round came around, pick 186, it happened. His name was called by the Seattle Thunderbirds. Sanders got to live the dream that many kids have while growing up. He was selected by his hometown club.

He was happy to get picked by any WHL team but having it be Seattle was icing on the cake for the 15-year-old hopeful who grew up attending Thunderbirds games.

“It’s definitely extra special that it’s Seattle,” he says about being drafted. “I was super happy, my whole family is from Seattle. I’m from Seattle. I was just really excited to play back home.”

Sanders got into hockey at four years old when his family moved to Canada for a year-and-a-half due to his father’s work. Back in Seattle he joined the Junior Thunderbirds and began to develop his game.

Youth hockey in Seattle is plentiful but Sanders would leave the area last season to play against tougher competition. This is common for players in the Puget Sound area and something that very likely could change when the NHL arrives in the region and the local game grows.

Sanders ended up playing for Detroit Compuware in Michigan. It’s one of the premier youth hockey programs in the United States and was a great opportunity.

“It was summer and I got an email from coach Ryan Barnes asking me to come skate with them,” he says. “They liked how I played so I joined the team. It’s really nice, there’s a lot of competition and really good development. We’re in the gym a lot and work hard on the ice.”

He joined a Compuware program that knows a thing or two about developing hockey players. The list of alumni who have played there is impressive. It includes NHL stars such as Eric Lindros, Mike Modano, Pat Lafontaine, and a host of NHL regulars.

Not only did Sanders get to develop against top competition, he also got a taste of winning.

Detroit Compuware won their league championship along with a Michigan Sate title and the U14 Tier 1 National Championship. Playing as a forward, Sanders scored six goals while adding 12 assists with Compuware last season.

“Mekai is from Seattle,” Thunderbirds Director of Player Personnel Cal Filson said through a team statement. “He does everything at full speed. He skates hard, shoots hard, and plays hard. I see him being a fan favorite.”

Sanders says he is a Washington Capitals fan and loves to watch superstar Alex Ovechkin play. That’s not a bad example to model your game after.

“I play with a lot of speed,” Sanders says of his game. “I’m aggressive, competitive, and I like to shoot the puck.”

Like many players his age there is no real off season for Sanders. This past weekend he was in San Jose to take part in the Western Regionals Development Camp. After a Sunday layover in Seattle where he got to have dinner with his mom, it was back to Detroit to finish school.

Come August he will be hitting the ShoWare Center ice for training camp with the rest of the Thunderbirds newly drafted prospects. Wearing the Thunderbirds crest will be a new experience for most of those players. For Sanders it will be familiar, and it will be home.

“I can’t really describe it,” he says of what wearing that jersey will feel like. “It’s going to be awesome.”