Like any great goal scorer, Ty Lewis knows how to capitalize on an opportunity.
So when his third season in professional hockey ended this spring and he was given an offer to join the new Western Canada Hockey Academy as an instructor, the 23-year-old former Wheat Kings star traded in his equipment for a whistle.
"When I got home, the opportunity approached me with WCHA here, I had an offer to work here, and I thought if I didn’t take it, I didn’t think that position would be open in a couple of years so I just kind of jumped on it," Lewis said. "Working with the Hockey Factory for the past nine years or so, I’ve gained some experience there working with kids and really loved it. I thought it would be a good fit. "
The Hockey Factory, which is run by Lewis’s father Dave along with Craig Anderson, has trained a generation of hockey players in Westman. The two veteran hockey instructors were quick to jump on board with the brand new WCHA, which will train out of a rink currently being constructed in the city’s southwest corner. It’s set to open in the fall, with players attending school there and getting hockey instruction from a staff that will also include Wheat Kings assistant coach Mark Derlago on a part-time basis.
The academy won’t have its own teams playing in prep leagues, however, with all the players returning to skate in the Hockey Brandon system.
"I’m really excited about it," Lewis said. "We have a great group of guys at the WCHA, Dave Lewis, Craig Anderson, both have been doing it for a long time and been in the hockey world for a long time and know a ton about the game," Lewis said. "Derlago is another great guy, an assistant coach with the Wheat Kings, lots of hockey knowledge. It’s going to be a really good group of guys to work with, tons of experience, tons of knowledge for the kids. I’m really excited to be on the ice and still involved with the game, working with kids.
"Just being on my skates every day is big for me. I don’t think I could sit in an office for eight or 10 hours a day, I think I would go crazy.
"The more I’m on my skates, the better for me. I like to be moving."
Lewis brings some impressive experience with him to the job.
He was Brandon’s third-round pick in 2013, going 47th overall in the Western Hockey League draft after playing in just eight games that year due to a knee injury. He piled up 57 points in 35 games as a 15-year-old with the U18 AAA Wheat Kings, but then disaster struck again when he broke his arm and missed most of his 16-year-old season.
At 17, he found a spot on Brandon’s fourth line as the Wheat Kings won the WHL title in 2015-16, and he broke out in in the 2016-17 WHL campaign with 68 points in 70 games,
Lewis signed his three-year, entry-level contract with Colorado on Oct. 2, 2017 at the start of the 2017-18 WHL season. That year, in his 19-year-old season, Lewis led the Wheat Kings with 44 goals and 56 assists in 70 games.
He spent his professional career bouncing between the Avalanche’s two farm clubs, the American Hockey League’s Colorado Eagles and the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies.
In the 2018-19 season, Lewis spent 51 games with Colorado, scoring eight goals and adding 11 assists. In seven games with Utah, he had 13 points. In the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 campaign, he had an assist in 12 games with the Eagles, and put up 25 goals and 26 assists in 44 games with the Grizzlies.
Last season, he went without a point in five games with the Eagles, and contributed eight goals and 19 assists in 42 games with the Grizzlies.
After a string of injuries as a teenager, Lewis is leaving the game in good health. As a bonus, he never contracted COVID and was double vaccinated in appointments set up by the team.
"I had a few injuries when I was younger — I think 14 to 16 I had a pretty tough three-year stretch there — but after that there wasn’t a lot of heavy, heavy injuries," Lewis said. "I had no concussions on the record but some bumps and bruises along the way and some cuts and scars. I think just playing pro hockey, there are going to be times your body is sore, especially in Utah this year because the schedule was very condensed."
He retired with 191 points in 190 regular season games in the WHL, 91 points in 93 games in the ECHL and 20 points in 68 games at the AHL level.
While he’s leaving the game as a player, he certainly has no regrets. He’s glad he had the chance to experience the pro lifestyle and meet new people.
"I don’t think it’s as glamorous as a lot of people make it out to be, especially when you’re one of those guys kind of on the bubble, getting shipped up and down," Lewis said with a chuckle. "I think I switched teams eight or nine times this year, which was a bit of a change. It takes a toll on you after while. If you love the game, love hockey, it’s obviously a fun job. I loved doing it for three years and made a lot of good friends, a lot of boys I’m still close with and talk to a lot. In that aspect it was really good and I got a lot great experiences out of it."
Now it’s a matter of communicating to youngsters what he learned during that time. He’s excited about the challenge, especially because he really likes working with young players.
"As I’ve gotten older, I’ve enjoyed it more and more, especially as I’ve progressed in my hockey career," Lewis said. "I think I’ve learned a lot of things from the Wheat Kings going all the way up to the Grizzlies, the Eagles and even being at NHL camps with the Avs and the stuff they harp on there. I picked up a lot of things that are undervalued.
"They really talk about small detail work. It’s not all flashy. It’s a lot about making good plays, good hockey sense, where to be on the ice, that kind of stuff. I’m trying to take what I’ve learned from the past three years playing pro. I can take it in and try to bring it back here and help develop kids in the area who are coming to WCHA and try to make as big an impact as I can."
While the new rink being constructed by J&G isn’t finished yet, work has begun at summer camps, so he’s already hard at work. He has two skates in the morning and three in the afternoon, and will get busier as the summer passes.
He’s looking forward to moving into the new rink and officially embarking on his new career.
"It’s going to be really exciting," Lewis said. "The facility is going to be amazing with all the plans they have. It’s going to be top class. The opportunity came up and for me, it just seemed like something I really enjoyed doing.
"It had nothing to do with just the game of hockey, it’s just another way of going about hockey, teaching, being around home a little more, around family and friends. It just seemed like such a good opportunity, I didn’t want to pass it up and not have it be there in a year or two. I thought I would jump on it."
» Twitter: @PerryBergson