Without much else to do on the four-hour ride, our few minutes of conversation pass some time while his teammates whoop and holler in the background.
Two years ago, he would have been on a bus from his home near Kitchener, Ont., to Saginaw, MI., to open his first season in the Ontario Hockey League. He would have been itching with excitement, having beaten out much higher-touted prospects for a chance to wear his hometown colours with the Kitchener Rangers. He would have finally been playing the best hockey available to him.
It wasn’t easy to get to that point.
Three times during his minor hockey years, Soper was cut from AAA teams because of his size. He went undrafted by OHL teams year after year. He excelled everywhere he played; he just never played where he felt he should.
That all changed after one stellar season of junior B, however, when he scored 29 times in 48 games. He was called to the Rangers office in the offseason, where he was offered a contract.
But things didn’t work out. After 50 games, Soper managed just three points in a limited role. He was let go before the start of last season.
“It’s always tough leaving home. It was a pretty special opportunity to play for the team I grew up watching. But that was taken away from me and I moved on.”
Meanwhile, the Bearcats were looking to fill some holes left by injuries and departures. They were in need of centremen to fill the offensive role of Brandon Pye and the defensive role of Brandon Bazinet when both players went down injured. In Soper, they found a two-for-one deal.
For a kid from Ontario, however, Truro was unmarked territory.
“I’d driven through Nova Scotia once as a kid,” he chuckled. “My dad is from Newfoundland, and we were on our way there. I don’t remember much about it.”
Soper’s second visit to the province would prove more memorable. He made an immediate impact, anchoring the second line and logging major minutes on special teams. He became known as a lightning rod on the penalty kill, often trapping defencemen behind their own net and daring them to come out. When they do, his speed and aggression forces turnovers in precious territory if the defender doesn’t move quickly.
“It was something I developed out of necessity,” Soper said of his PK talent. “The teams I played on were so overly talented, I had to find some other way to get extra shifts. It became penalty killing.”
Last week, a blank sheet of paper sat in each player’s stall. On it, they were to write their choice for captain and three alternates. The players overwhelmingly chose Soper.
“It’s an honour, really, and a big surprise,” he said, noting he voted for Zach Beaton.
He’ll follow in the footsteps of Brandon Pye, Daniel Perigo and Jake Primeau, who all wore the ‘C’ at some point last season. Much like the others, he’s a player who leads with his play on the ice more than anything.
Soper isn’t all about hockey, however. Away from the ice, he’s an avid music fan and even works gigs for his father’s DJ company during the summer. “I’m always working on music,” he said of his love for discovering new songs and even doing his own remixes. Being musically inclined has its benefits in a junior hockey locker room, and Soper has been in charge of pre-game tunes since his arrival.
But it's more than just the arsenal of Val Halen in the locker room fuelling his energy on the ice. It's his love for hockey.
“I live and breathe for the game. When you pull the jersey over your head and wear your team’s logo, there’s nothing better in the world. It just makes you want to give it all you’ve got.”