For such a high-profile rookie, Jayce Hawryluk spent the start of the Brandon Wheat Kings’ season a long way from the spotlight.
While the Wheat Kings roared out to a 4-0 start to the Western Hockey League season, Hawryluk watched from the stands, thanks to a concussion that had kept him out of action since the team’s training camp intrasquad game.
Hawryluk finally made his eagerly awaited debut on Saturday night in Moose Jaw, Sask., setting up Eric Roy for the Wheat Kings’ lone goal in their 6-1 loss to the Moose Jaw Warriors. Although disappointed with the final score, the 16-year-old forward from Roblin was pleased with his showing.
"I thought it went well," he said. "I was nervous at the beginning, but once the first period went on, I started to settle in and things were good but it was exciting, that’s for sure."
The 5-foot-10, 186-pound Hawryluk was a scoring sensation last season with the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League’s Parkland Rangers, finishing fourth in both goals (31) and points (67).
A second-round pick (32nd overall) by Brandon in the 2011 WHL bantam draft, Hawryluk is part of a bumper crop of young forwards that have the Wheat Kings and their fans excited about the future.
As anxious as fans were to see him play, Hawryluk himself was absolutely bouncing off the walls while he waited to make his debut.
"(Waiting) was very tough," Hawryluk said, saying that he now feels 100 per cent healthy. "I’m not a very patient person when it comes to stuff like that. It was a battle for sure, not being able to play for two weeks, but once I got in the lineup, things are a lot better now. I’m a lot happier now, that’s for sure."
Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk is also happy with Hawryluk’s progress, saying that strong efforts in practice helped him to make a strong debut.
"He was very excited to get started and he did well," Gylywoychuk said. "I’m sure it was a little overwhelming for him, but he settled in and finished off really strong.
"He did some good things on the ice, and I think some things were a little bit of an eye-opener for him, with how fast the game was. Things were up a few notches from when he played last, but I think he’ll fit in just fine."
Having missed the entire pre-season, Hawryluk admitted that regular-season WHL hockey takes some getting used to. But with his first game out of the way, he’s looking forward to being able to focus on his game.
"It’s a lot different than people think," he said of the adjustment. "It’s super fast and your decisions have to be bang on, quick. It’s a lot different than I was used to, that’s for sure. But I’m settling in now, and it’s becoming normal, I guess you could say."
ONE-TIMERS: The league-leading Wheat Kings start a four-game homestand this weekend, hosting the Portland Winterhawks on Friday and the Red Deer Rebels Saturday (7:30 both nights at Westman Place). Following the homestand, the Wheat Kings will set out on their annual West Coast road trip.