Two of the Yukon’s top hockey players were named to the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s top prospects showcase.
Johnny Elias of the Golden Rockets and Lukas Jirousek of the Summerland Steam were named to the rosters earlier this month.
“It means a lot,” said Jirousek. “It’s really good for me because there are a lot of scouts and different colleges that will be going there to watch, so it’s great exposure. I think it’ll be a lot of fun to play against top-end guys.”
“It’s an honour to be identified as one of the top 16, 17, even 18-year-olds in the league,” said Elias. “The way I’ve been playing, it’s nice to get rewarded.”
It’s been a long season for Elias, but he seems to have found a home in Golden.
Starting the season with the Kimberley Dynamiters in the KIJHL, the return of some players from Junior A meant Elias had to move to the North Island Silvertips in the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League where he said it wasn’t a good fit.
“Things just didn’t work,” said Elias. “I wasn’t enjoying myself.”
Elias then joined the Oceanside Generals of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League before being traded to Golden at the end of November.
Jason Stephens, head coach and general manager for the Rockets, said Elias has been a positive addition to the club.
“Since he’s been with us, Johnny has been really good. He’s been playing in our top six and doing a great job,” said Stephens.
The Rockets are having a tough season. Through 35 games, they have just two wins.
“It was a little tough coming in and being the new guy,” said Elias. “I went there to help the team win — still working on that.”
Stephens said Elias has been a good fit in the locker room.
“Johnny is one of those guys that just came right in and honestly was embraced by all the guys. He proved himself right way … that he deserved to be there. He’s earned what he’s gotten, that’s for sure.”
Through 13 games with the Rockets, Elias has three goals and two assists.
While Jirousek hasn’t had to relocate this year, he did have to overcome a knee injury that forced him out of the lineup for two months.
“I just got hit on the outside of the leg and hurt my knee,” said Jirousek. “But before that, it was going great. I was getting points.”
Mike Rigby, general manager for the Summerland Steam, said Jirousek’s selection was well deserved.
“He came to us last year as an affiliated player and did a really good job for us,” said Rigby. “He came to prospects camp and our main camp this year, and obviously we thought enough of Lukas to offer him a full-time playing card.”
Jirousek is adapting to the junior game, something Rigby said is making him a better player.
“I think he’s played really well,” said Rigby. “He’s got good wheels, he likes to shoot the puck. He is learning to distribute the puck a little bit better to his teammates. He’s starting to learn how to play the game with a little bit more of a team game than he’s used to playing in the past.”
An affiliated player of the West Kelowna Warriors in the BCHL, Jirousek has been practicing with both teams while rehabilitating his knee and hopes to join the team full-time before the season is out.
“I’m hoping to get the call pretty soon to go up with them,” said Jirousek. “But if I don’t, I’ll just stay here and keep playing games with both teams.”
Jiroursek said he’d ultimately like to play a few seasons in the BCHL and then play in college.
“That’s sort of been my dream,” said Jirousek.
Jirousek has nine goals and seven assists through 20 games for the Steam.
The KIJHL is a popular destination for Yukon players and nearly a dozen Yukoners currently play in the league.
Elias and Jirousek both said the KIJHL is appealing for a couple of reasons.
“Growing up in Whitehorse and playing minor hockey there, we always came to B.C. for provincials and tournaments. It’s just more comfortable,” said Elias. “That’s just where we’ve all gone.”
For Jirousek, proximity was also a factor.
“I think it’s basically the closest league for guys who want to move onto the BCHL and the WHL,” said Jirousek. “It’s the closest thing for Whitehorse players to go to before you make that jump to those leagues.”
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at email@example.com