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Making It

By John Ploszay
Photos by Kelly Shea/Springfield Thunderbirds Media, China Wong/Springfield Thunderbirds Media and Jordy Grossman

There are scouts all over the Western Hockey League, the American Hockey League and the National Hockey League who will tell you no one works harder than Roblin, Manitoba’s Jayce Hawryluk.

Making It

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He’s a grinder with skills who plays bigger than his size, is completely fearless, will skate through the end boards for his coach and teammates and yet has enough savvy to have put up a 47-goal season in the WHL.

He’s also a guy who accepted a demotion to the East Coast Hockey League last season and came back with more determination to make it to The Show.

In the month of December, Hawryluk lived his dream. In. fact, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound rightwing/centre scored his first NHL goal and then added a second as his Florida Panthers beat the Chicago Black Hawks 6-3 just two nights before Christmas.

It’s been an odyssey that started when Hawryluk was selected by the Panthers in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2014 NHL draft. After a very successful junior career with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, (he racked up huge numbers for the Wheaties including 119 goals and 159 assists in four seasons), Hawryluk started his pro career with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds, played six games last season with the ECHL’s Manchester Monarchs and after 25 games in the AHL this season, he was called up to play his first NHL game on Dec. 15 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It’s been a progression, one that took patience and a lot of hard work,” Hawryluk said. “I knew I could get here but I had to be stellar in my commitment to myself as a hockey player and to the Florida Panthers organization.”

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It’s been a progression and a devotion to hard work and commitment that has culminated in Jayce’s move to the big club. Injuries, disappointments, demotions from the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds and to the ECHL’s Manchester Monarchs haven’t deterred him. On the contrary, He’s been strengthened by it all.

“The Florida Panthers organization have been incredible to me,” he said. “They have brought me up through their system and I have to continue to work hard, be responsible in both ends of the ice, and put the puck in the back of the net.”

Hawryluk described his first goal this way: “Our d-man made a good play off the wall and I got a good jump to the hole and it got punched past their defenseman. Then it was just a 50-50 race to the puck — me against Cam Ward — and I just beat him to it and I had the empty net to shoot at. It’s a special feeling that I won’t forget.

“I’ve played hockey all my life so when I got the puck and saw Cam Ward come out to poke check it, I just reacted and then I had the entire open net to shoot at.”

It was a great way to start his Christmas holiday, although his holiday wasn’t a normal one. Instead of going back to Roblin, he spent it with the family of his off-season golf buddy, Nolan Patrick.

“There’s nothing better than spending Christmas in Roblin, my home town, but that just couldn’t happen this year,” he said, as he drove to Tampa to meet the Panthers after the last day of Christmas break. “At Christmas there’s definitely no place like home.”

The Panthers are probably just a .500 hockey team but it’s an organization that is now counting on its young players to take them to the next level. That said, Hawryluk admits there are great veteran leaders on the team that he admires.

“There’s not just one guy in the room that I look up to,” he said. “There’s a bunch. Guys like Roberto Louongo, Alexsander Barkov, and Keith Yandle who’s been around forever. These guys are real leaders and have been great to me. The one big piece of advice I get from them is to work hard all the time.”

Hawryluk says he got his incredible work ethic from his mom and dad and added that he can’t say enough about how dedicated his family is to his development.

“I was always busy with sports,” he said. “We travelled everywhere for hockey and baseball. We were on the road sometimes more than we were at home. Without my parents I could never have been a professional athlete.”

Hawryluk is quick to admit he’s a small-town guy living the dream – the same dream that every young Canadian kid who’s ever laced on a pair of skates has had. However, there aren’t many kids anywhere who will commit to the work that Hawryluk put in to make it to the NHL.

“It’s all about being prepared to work hard,” he said. “It’s all about work ethic – and, oh yeah, getting the puck to the net.”

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