As Warman’s Riley Ashe waited for his name to be called at this past summer’s Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League bantam draft, there was only one team on his mind.
Selected 10th overall by the Melfort Mustangs, it seemed like fate that the 16-year-old would one day don the blue and green of the club.
“It was kind of relieving because I was hoping to go here,” said Ashe. “Other than that it was just happiness, it was just looking forward to hopefully playing here.”
That selection was a cause for celebration for the Ashe family, the second such time that one of their sons had earned interest from the Mustangs organization.
“After the draft we knew that he had a chance of becoming a Mustang and it was something that he really looked forward to and really wanted to do,” said Riley’s mother Della Ashe. “So, we just supported what his decision was.”
Now in his rookie season with Melfort, Riley has been one of the top-performing first-year players in the entire SJHL, racking up 12 points through his first 18 games to earn himself a tie for third in team scoring.
Behind the excitement of being one of the league’s most talked-about rookies, however, skating at the Northern Lights Palace is still bittersweet for the winger.
On Sept. 20, 2020, his older brother and Mustangs defenceman Dylan Ashe was driving his prized 1985 Chevy truck for a weekend at the lake when he rolled the vehicle near White Fox.
Dylan did not survive the crash, passing away less than two months after his 18th birthday.
The tragedy rocked the Mustangs and all of Saskatchewan junior hockey, a loss that is still being felt around the team.
“We still have him around our dressing room, for sure,” said Mustangs head coach and general manager Trevor Blevins. “We have his stick hanging in our room before we go out on the ice at the entrance, pictures, just to make sure that we never forget.”
Two months after Dylan’s death, the Mustangs created a scholarship in his name and raised his number 27 to the rafters.
Almost a year to the day after the crash in September 2021, a special exception was made for Riley to wear his brother’s retired number in his Mustangs debut as a call-up from the Saskatoon U18 AAA Blazers.
Since that game, Riley has skated at the Palace with Dylan’s name and number looking down.
“Every time if it’s practice or if it’s a game, that’s what I see and that’s what kind of inspires me,” said Riley. “It makes me want to do my best if he was here.”
The Ashe family has spent the last two years trying to pick up the pieces after Dylan’s death, but according to Della the work that’s been done by the Mustangs and the junior hockey community has made a huge difference in keeping his memory alive.
“We’re proud of what he did do, wish that he could still be here doing that,” said Della. “We know we can’t change what happened, but we can be a part of the organization. We can keep his legacy alive by contributing with the scholarship, by having his name in the rafters and now with Riley on the team.”
Current Melfort captain Ben Tkachuk was a rookie alongside Dylan in the 2019-20 SJHL season and they found their footing in junior hockey together as first-years.
Now with a ‘C’ on his chest, Tkachuk is helping to lead Riley through those same lessons.
“Dylan was a great guy and Riley is obviously a great guy, raised by great parents who are awesome people,” said Tkachuk. “So, it means a lot. There’s a lot of similarities within the two and it’s really good. It’s fun to play with him, he’s a really good kid.”
It was Blevins who brought both Ashe brothers into the Mustangs fold and now coaching Riley from behind the bench, he sees flashes of Dylan’s talent and character coming through in the younger sibling.
“You put Dylan and Riley together and you can tell they’re brothers and excellent people,” said Blevins. “Dylan was a great teammate and would do anything that you asked of him, play forward when we needed him and would go out and bring lots of energy. He just was always there for his teammates and you can see Riley has the same kind of character.”
This season, both Della and husband Mark have travelled from Warman as many times as possible to take in games in Melfort, not only to support their youngest son and his hockey dreams, but also to be in the same rink that Dylan once called home.
Even though there are still some mixed emotions in returning to Melfort, the wave of support they’ve received has helped to bring a sense of comfort walking through those doors.
“It was kind of the last place Dylan was, so we just feel like we’re a part of it,” said Della. “Coming back to the rink here is kind of where our hearts lie right now. Some of the other rinks you kind of get nervous going into because you remember the other times. But now, coming back to Melfort we usually try to make every game we can.”
Now a staple in the Mustangs lineup, Riley is beginning to write his own chapter with the club by turning heads with his raw skill set of offensive talent.
For Della, having Riley carry on Dylan’s name with the Mustangs is something that carries a lot of weight for the family as a whole.
“We talk a lot about just making sure you’re representing the Mustangs, you’re representing the family and the organization, and wearing the jersey with pride,” said Della. “Be proud that you can carry on Dylan’s legacy by wearing the Mustang jersey.”
Chasing a championship with Melfort is the focus for Riley this season as he continues to grow as a junior player, while also following in the footsteps first skated by Dylan.
It’s a continuation of his family’s legacy that he doesn’t take lightly.
“It means a lot just coming to this area,” said Riley. “(Dylan) played both years of his midget and then his junior here. A lot of the guys remind me of him, so it means a lot coming here and playing with the same last name on my back.”