By Matthew Burgess
Newly signed Cardiff Devils goaltender Callum Booth has chosen to follow his Welsh roots upon deciding on the latest chapter of a fascinating career.
The 26-year-old is perhaps the most intriguing of the latest new arrivals announced by the team at their annual ‘Devils Summit’ event in Calgary.
Booth hails from the opposite side of the vast country, brought up in the hockey hotbed of Montreal in French-speaking Quebec.
“Hockey is a huge part of the culture, hockey has been our whole life,” he said in his first official interview with the Devils.
Booth’s hockey journey has taken him into the upper echelons of the game, yet playing for the Devils in the Elite League next season will be the first time many of his family will actually get to see him play in person.
Although born in Canada, his mother is from Conwy, North Wales meaning Booth has been a regular visitor to the UK.
“In 1996 my mother moved over to McGill University to start a clinic here in Montreal,” he explained.
“At first it was a three-year contract but I happened to be born over here and they really liked the lifestyle and they stayed ever since.
“It’s gotta be 26, 27 years now and yeah, all the rest of my family, my grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, they’re still all in the UK.
“I’m quite fortunate to go back and visit them every single year.”
Booth was one of four new signings announced by the Devils last weekend, taking the team’s roster of confirmed players for next season up to 16.
He is planning to arrive next month prior to the team’s pre-season training camp.
“It’s going to be super cool to be able to play in the UK in front of people who have never really seen play hockey.
“It’ll be a really cool experience for me, just with hockey being such a big part of my life but then also having grandparents and uncles and little cousins who have never even seen me play, so I’m quite excited for that experience,” he said.
Booth’s displays in the prestigious Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) – a major production line for NHL talent – eventually saw him achieve the dream of many young Candadians and was drafted into the NHL.
“I was incredibly fortunate to have played for two great organisations in [the QMJHL] the Quebec Remparts and the Saint John Sea Dogs.
“If fans over there don’t know it, Remparts is an incredible place to play junior hockey as they sell out from 15 to 17, 18,000 fans a night and for a 16 year old, that’s just a great experience and a great opportunity,” he explained.
In 2015, Booth was selected by the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes as a fourth-round draft pick and put pen-to-paper on a three-year entry level contract.
Booth’s brother Angus, a 19-year-old defenceman, has followed in Callum’s footsteps and was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2022 NHL entry draft, and currently continues his development in the QMJHL.
“As for any hockey player so much hard work goes into that day-to-day career to that point, so to be able to have it all come to fruition and be drafted was an amazing experience for me but to also have my family there and everyone supporting me,” he said.
After seeing out his entry-level contract playing for the Hurricanes’ minor league affiliates, Booth was then signed by the Boston Bruins on a two-year deal.
It was expected the new deal with Boston would see him continue in the minor leagues, but instead it proved to be an unforgettable season for Booth as the NHL’s Covid protocol in 2020 resulted in him getting called up to the Bruins’ so-called ‘taxi squad’.
For Booth that meant a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity spending much of the 2020 season travelling as part of the Boston Bruins team as their third-choice goalie, living and working with a host of established NHL stars including goalies Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak.
“I didn’t get much, almost any, game time, but the experience of getting able to practice with those guys every day, be part of the team, to be flying on their private jets everywhere,” he explained.
“‘Oh, what are you doing tonight?’, ‘I’m going to go and watch a game at Madison Square Garden because the Bruins are playing and I have to be in the stands’, the Lake Tahoe outdoor game…
“To live all that and be goalie partners with Rask and Halak, I have so many experiences from that year I will be able to fall back on in years to come and reminisce on the cool opportunities that I was given.”
After his two seasons contracted to Boston and an unsuccessful try-out with the NHL’s newest team, Seattle Kraken, Booth felt that he had pushed himself as hard as he could to crack North America and consider what opportunities lay further afield.
“I’ve been quite fortunate throughout my career, I’ve played in a lot of places and come Christmas time last year, I felt I had experienced North American hockey and had pushed myself and worked as hard as I could to get where I was and I was at the point where I wanted to try something new and maybe experience something else,” he reflected.
The decision to broaden his horizons proved to be a wise choice, admitting a brief spell in Germany helped him fall in love with the sport once again, leading up to an exciting new chapter with the Cardiff Devils and a fresh desire to impress. As a dual-national, it also begs the question whether Devils coach Pete Russell, who also coaches Team GB, sees a future for Booth at international level, adding another layer to Booth’s already-storied career.
“I ended up going to Frankfurt. I played for them for the last two months or so of the season and it rekindled my love and passion for the game,” he explained.
“I had always wanted to play in the UK, I have a lot of family and family friends and these people have never had the opportunity to watch me play.
“It’s a great opportunity in Cardiff, the great city, my mother was born in Wales.
“Technically, I would call myself Welsh. I’m definitely not as Welsh as I could be but all that put together really seemed like an amazing opportunity.
“The talks I had with the coaches, the general manager – everything was super positive and I’m excited to get things going.
“I’m so excited to get things going the five or six weeks can’t come quick enough and I can’t wait to get on the ice in the UK and it’s going to be a big step in my career.”