When Gavin Mears imagined what life would be like on the travel hockey racetrack, he imagined more spacious dressing rooms.
Mears, a 15-year-old Bakersfield native and aspiring defense attorney, has led a pretty enchanted life over the past few months. He plays with the Ontario Junior Reign of the North American Prospects Hockey League and competes in tournaments across the country. He tests his skills against elite prospects in Arizona, Minnesota and Texas, among others.
And while the experience was very rewarding, it also presented Mears with a number of challenges. A constant dose of travel during a global pandemic has proven to be stressful at times, and a variety of COVID-19 restrictions have also made certain parts of his game day routine difficult.
Such challenges were shown in a number of games recently when he and his teammates were unable to use their locker room. Forced to change cars, he was clumsily trying to put on a bulky uniform in a confined space while trying to maintain as much privacy as possible in a public parking lot.
Even if some aspects of life are not optimal, Mears says it is worth it in the long run.
“It’s weird. You have to do different things in different places and it’s difficult sometimes,” he said. “But I can still go on the ice, I’ll do it.”
For Mears, taking an alternate route to playing his sport of choice is nothing new.
As a sophomore at Liberty High School, he was not given the same opportunities to fight for his school as many of his peers since ice hockey is not a sanctioned CIF sport.
Fortunately, he found other ways to accelerate his development, starting when he was 10 when he started fighting for the Junior Condors. There he received guidance from numerous former professionals, notably from his father, Glen Mears, who played professional hockey at Bakersfield for seven years.
Gavin says his development was also helped by an extremely competitive sibling rivalry with brother Logan, who is four years his junior.
“I used to go to his exercises when I was younger and I always wanted to be better than him,” said Gavin, before adding a dig that Logan “used to be better than me, but no longer.”
Mears was basically ahead of the curve, and all the more dangerous when he saw a surge in teenage growth. At just 15, he currently stands at an imposing 6-foot-3,210 pounds.
His size and skill helped him get on the radar of California-based Ontario Junior Reign, and eventually landed him on their U16 AAA team list that summer. In the last six months he was able to compete with and against elite prospects from all over the world.
While most of his athletic counterparts hold on to the hope that they will even have a season in the 2020-21 school year, Mears is the rare athlete in California who actually found a point of sale during the coronavirus era.
He can take courses online and take part in tournaments in the United States. This creates opportunities that under normal circumstances he may not have been given.
“All of this probably wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t stayed home from school,” said Glen Mears, who like his son was a defender during his season. “It pushed him out of his comfort zone and it was a good thing.”
In a short time, Gavin became a standout player in his age group. He was recently selected to compete in the NAPHL All-Star Game, the only 15-year-old to receive an All-Star nod.
“The All-Star game was a great time,” said Gavin, who recorded an assist in the game. “They were all the top kids for every team. It was pretty cool to be the youngest out there.”
After Mears recently returned to Bakersfield for a vacation break, he will return to his Junior Reign teammates for a series of games in Dallas on January 15.
Mears strives to bring his talents into the NHL and hopes to end up in the U.S. Premier Hockey League or Western Hockey League with an elite travel team in the years to come.
With that goal in mind, Mears is happily preparing for a future of wider travel and extremely cramped locker rooms.
“Wherever there is good hockey, I want to be there,” he said.