(Photo credit: Richard Petersen)
If there’s any question that Junior ‘A’ Hockey can be a launch pad to just about anywhere, look no further than Team Canada’s 2021 World Junior team, which saw Devon Levi, one year removed from the CJHL (Carleton Place) play every minute of action in Canada’s crease, posting three shutouts, while not allowing an even strength goal in the tournament, under Tuesday’s loss in the Gold Medal Game to the United States. Levi’s at Northeastern University in the NCAA and hasn’t played a game there yet, so he effectively went straight from Junior ‘A’ Hockey (won MVP at last year’s World Junior ‘A’ Challenge) to being Canada’s starter at the WJHC.
Closer to home, Nipawin’s Ross Hawryluk also made the Junior ‘A’ to NCAA jump, and a rather quick decision right around Christmas, committing to, and joining the Western Michigan University Broncos. While watching Levi and team Canada go for gold on Tuesday, Hawryluk took time to answer some questions about his sudden change of scenery.
“It all just came out of the blue, I got a call one day from Head Coach Andy Murray saying that I was a potential prospect. I had a couple interviews with him and the assistant coach J.J. Crew. Finally they had called me one day and informed me that I was the goalie they had chosen to bring down. The campus is gorgeous and the facilities are some of the best I have ever seen. It’s a first class organization and the guys have been super welcoming. As far as this year goes I am just working hard to improve and develop as a Division I athlete.”
Coach Andy Murray was an NHL head coach in Los Angeles in the early 2000’s and St. Louis up until 2010 and has been at Western Michigan for 10 years since then.
Murray mentions adding Hawryluk and two other players over Christmas and that all three were in situations where their junior teams were no longer playing – and that Hawryluk wasn’t eligible to play this weekend, but would be eligible for the upcoming weekend – at about the 8 minute mark of this video
Hawryluk was 19-8-4 with the Hawks last season, getting the bulk of the action as a rookie, and was off to a great start this season as the undisputed #1 and poised to be among the top goalies in the SJHL, going 4-1 through five starts with a 2.16 GAA. While the SJHL remains in limbo, Hawryluk said heading south didn’t have anything to do with the Covid situation and current restrictions surrounds sports in Saskatchewan.
“No, the uncertainty had no influence on my decision. This opportunity was a dream come true. I felt it would have been foolish not to take it, if it was presented to me.”
Hawryluk admits it was a tough decision to leave now, with the Hawks off to such a promising start to the season, and hopes they’ll be able to get back at it before long.
“My time in Nipawin was amazing. The guys in that locker room are some of the best people I have ever met. They made me better each day I stepped on the ice. Coach Doug Johnson pushed me and helped get me to the next level. Both assistant coaches I had the pleasure working with helped as well. My billets were some of the best out there and gave me a home away from home.”
Hawryluk said there aren’t any fans in the stands for Western Michigan games yet, but the situation has been improving. The players get Covid tested daily and he says he feels more than safe in his new surroundings.