by Lisa Brown on 02/14/12 at 01:59 AM ET
From the moment we first met, I knew that we would get along. It’s not as though I’m a difficult person, but the Oilers have been doing an exceptional job of drafting all around good hockey players and people. Drew Czerwonka, captain of the WHL Kootenay Ice is certainly one of them.
Czerwonka was drafted in the 6th round, 166th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and will turn 20 July 1st. The most recent measurements have Czerwonka standing 6’2” and 192 lbs, but he seems even bigger in person and it is not just because of his big personality.
Last season, the Ice went all of the way to the Memorial Cup, surprising many, but none more so than themselves. This season, Czerwonka’s fifth with the club, the team hopes to repeat their successes from last season.
Unfortunately for Czerwonka, he has had more than his fair share of injuries this season. The left-winger injured his shoulder while with the Oilers in the pre-season and was unable to play the first games of the Ice’s season.
Despite that setback, Czerwonka began his season with the intentions of playing the best hockey of his life, and taking on a bigger leadership role with the team. Upon his return to the Ice line-up, Czerwonka was named team captain and so his bigger leadership role seemed to be assured.
But, Czerwonka wasn’t expecting the nomination. “In the summer I didn’t think that it would be me. But getting into the season I knew that I wanted to be a bigger leader because last year we had great leaders. I just wanted to carry it through with this year’s team. I think that we’re doing that. The leaders on this team are doing a great job of that so far.”
The Ice are currently 4th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 31-17-4-4 and 11 points behind the conference leading Edmonton Oil Kings. Most impressively, the Ice have combined for only 850 penalty minutes which is good enough for 9th of 12 teams.
“We’ve had some ups and downs,” says Czerwonka of his team’s season, “but every team has those and it’s just a matter of how the team responds. I think that we’ve done a great job of responding from every loss. It’s just been getting better every day.” It’s not just how his team responds to losses, but also to the frustrations on the ice. Sunday afternoon’s game against the Calgary Hitmen saw the team rack up 45 penalty minutes, but that was only half of the 91 the Hitmen were assessed.
Looking at Czerewonka’s stats for the season, it is easy to see that his goal scoring has increased substantially even though Czerwonka lost time to his shoulder injury and a concussion in January. “I’m playing with Max Reinhart so that makes [scoring] easier.
“You get to see the puck and it’s easy tap ins usually. I play with great players and so that’s helped me out a lot this year.” But Czerwonka may be being modest. He plays a hard physical, fearless game and so can often be found in front of the opponent’s net.
Through 38 games this season, Czerwonka has scored 13 goals and 17 assists and is a +6.
Although my experiences viewing Czerwonka play are not as common as for players of more local teams, from what I have seen, Czerwonka is also a man who can get under the skin of the other team. Czerwonka is a talker on the ice, one who chirps seemingly constantly but always with a smile.
After two fairly significant injuries, Czerwonka is feeling fine. “I took some time and got a few bag skates in, some time on the bike and I’m ready for another deep, long playoff run.”
In order to make that long, deep playoff run, Czerwonka knows that he will have to make some improvements to his game. “I just haven’t been consistent enough” admitted Czerwonka. “I’ve just come back from an injury, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do, be consistent. So far, the last five games I’ve been doing a good job of that. That’s really all I’ve been working on.”
After a big win over their division rivals the Calgary Hitmen, all members of the Ice wore big smiles. That included the Ice’s head coach Kris Knoblauch who took a few minutes to discuss Czerwonka’s season thus far. “Obviously he’s our captain, and he’s our leader. It’s unfortunate with his injuries; it stalls his progress every time. But when he came back from his first injury and started the season he was so hungry and so good and then unfortunately he had a concussion after that.
”It takes a while, especially for those bigger guys to get their legs back and Drew has been back with us for a while now and he’s starting to get better and better. Right now, he’s playing his best hockey that’s he’s played throughout our season.”
The Ice have 16 regular season games left this season which will wrap up with a home and home series with the Calgary Hitmen. After the fireworks of Sunday’s game against the Hitmen, it will be interesting to see how the teams respond when they face each other next month. One thing that is certain is that Czerwonka will be out to make an impression on the ice.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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