Overage forward gets his fill

KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

BRANDON — There was no guarantee Aaron Lewadniuk was going to be around for the good stuff.

After Matt Calvert came back from the Columbus Blue Jackets camp in early October, the Brandon Wheat Kings had four overage players and would only be able to keep three.

Calvert and skilled Jay Fehr — both heading into their fourth season as Wheat Kings — were basically assured of two spots.

That left one for Lewadniuk and Del Cowan to fight for.

“We knew right after the (2008-09 Western Hockey League season) that there was going to be a 20-year-old problem and it just came down to training as hard as you can, trying to get as physically and mentally ready as you can for the start of the season,” Lewadniuk said. “It was real tough. It was all up in the air, and it was an emotional roller-coaster all the way through.

“Me and Del were talking throughout the summer and even at the start of the year there — we’re great buddies. It’s unfortunate one of us had to go.”

Lewadniuk wasn’t even sure he would report to another WHL team if he was traded or released.

There was speculation he might return to the Winkler Flyers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League instead of reporting.

Fortunately for Lewadniuk, it was a decision he didn’t have to make.

Once Wheat Kings GM-head coach Kelly McCrimmon opted to release Cowan, Lewadniuk was able to breathe a sigh of relief and his play took off.

By the time the regular season had come to a close, Lewadniuk was fourth in team scoring with 37 goals and 86 points — which more than doubled his goal production and nearly doubled his point production from last season.

“It was huge,” Lewadniuk said. “Once you have all that stress and weight off the shoulders, you can get back to playing your style of hockey and not try to impress everyone else.”

During the playoffs, Lewadniuk was third in scoring with six goals and 14 points in 15 games.

Lewadniuk has continued his strong play through the 2010 MasterCard Memorial Cup as his line of Fehr and Finnish import Toni Rajala have been chipping in nicely throughout the roundrobin games.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to get a couple points here, and we’re going to try to do everything we can to help our team win, whether it means putting some pucks in the net or trying to be defensive,” said Lewadniuk, a product of Carman, Man.

It was a tough decision for McCrimmon — who made several others during the off-season in paring down his stable of overage players — but ultimately, it appears to have been the right one.

“Aaron had a real good year for us,” McCrimmon said. “I don’t know how many goals he scored, but he scored 10 on his knees. He has a nose for the net, and he loves to score. He has good offensive ability, and he’s real gritty.”

There’s an interesting twist to the story though, as Cowan made it back to the Memorial Cup with the Calgary Hitmen, who supply the opposition again in Friday’s semifinal.

Similar to how it was in October, only one of Lewadniuk or Cowan will be around for Sunday’s championship final.

The other will see his junior career come to an abrupt end.

Lewadniuk has spent time thinking about the fact it’s his last week with the Wheat Kings, and he’s planning to do everything he can to help his team go out on top.

“For sure, it’s kind of in the back of your mind that this is the last few games in my junior career here, so it’s a little emotional,” said Lewadniuk, an undrafted free agent who isn’t sure what next season will bring. “But it’s definitely easy to get up for the games. Obviously, to get your name on that (Memorial) Cup would be really special, knowing that it’s going to be on there forever.”

ken.wiebe@sunmedia.ca


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