Jayce Hawryluk knows he can do more to help the Brandon Wheat Kings on the ice than he can sitting in the stands.
With that in mind, Brandon’s leading scorer said he intends to avoid tightrope walking on the edge of what the Western Hockey League rulebook allows when he returns to action on Saturday for the Wheat Kings’ playoff opener against the Regina Pats.
Hawryluk has been suspended three times this season, twice for hits on Pats players, sitting out a total of nine games, including Brandon’s last four of the regular season. Forced to watch helplessly while his teammates played with their season on the line in the final week of the regular season, the 18-year-old from Roblin said he breathed a "sigh of relief" when the Wheat Kings won their final three games, including two against Regina, to finish seventh in the Eastern Conference and secure a first-round matchup against the Pats.
"I hate watching games, whether I’m injured or suspended," said Hawryluk, who finished the season with 24 goals and 64 points in 59 games, tying for the team lead with 40 assists. "It sucks to watch games. I always want to be out there trying to help the team. Now I’m back, I’ve just got to watch it out there."
While Hawryluk has tremendous talent, being ranked by many sources as a possible second-round pick for this year’s National Hockey League entry draft, one of the intriguing elements to the right-winger’s game is the grit that he plays with. Hawryluk has a knack for getting under other players’ skin, and while he has yet to drop his gloves in anger during a WHL game, he’s not hesitant to get his point across by barrelling into opponents with his sturdy, 5-foot-10, 190-pound frame.
While Hawryluk’s supporters argued that two of the three hits that led to suspensions were clean — the first wasn’t even called a penalty at the time — the league head office saw differently, and with all three of those hits leading to injuries for the other player, his punishment escalated each time. Hawryluk said his hope is to keep the edge in his game intact, while throwing caution to the wind a little less often.
"I think that’s a good word to use, ‘cautious’," he said. "I still want to work hard. My work ethic, I don’t want to change that. Just (be) a little more cautious when making hits or whatnot, but it will be fine. I’m ready to play, be smart, be cautious, but play my game."
Although he wasn’t able to be on the ice for the last two games against Regina, Hawryluk said he kept a close eye on the game to learn what he could about the Pats, who are already a familiar opponent based on their eight games against the Wheat Kings this season.
"We know they’re a hard-working team," he said. "They’re really good on executing on turnovers, they’re fast through the neutral zone, and we’ve just got to take away time and space (from puck carriers) and work hard. It’s going to be a good battle and we’re excited for it."
ONE-TIMERS: C/LW Quintin Lisoway took a few turns on the blue-line during Tuesday’s practice as D Ryan Pilon and D Kord Pankewicz both left the session early — Pankewicz after being high-sticked in the face.