By Sam Laskaris
SAULT STE. MARIE, Michigan
Owen Headrick is continuing to turn heads with his hockey skills.
The 19-year-old, who is from the Garden River First Nation near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., is a sophomore defenceman with the Lake Superior State Lakers.
The Lakers, an NCAA Division 1 squad, are based in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, a mere 20-minute drive from his home community.
A year ago, Headrick earned rave reviews for nabbing a roster spot and having a regular shift with a club and in a league including players several years older. His play didn’t go unnoticed by pro talent seekers.
Officials from about 10 National Hockey League teams had discussions with him. But Headrick, who is Ojibwe, was not selected in the NHL Entry Draft this past June.
Headrick is still eligible to be chosen in the 2017 NHL draft. Even if he is not selected, he won’t be abandoning his pro aspirations.
“From college nowadays there’s a lot of guys signing on as free agents,” he said.
Though it remains to be seen what will happen the next few years, Headrick, who is studying Criminology at Lake Superior State, is planning to use up his four years of college eligibility.
“Education is a big part of my life and my family’s life,” said Headrick, who is the eldest of five children.
“Graduating with that degree would be huge because say I do get to play a couple of years of pro hockey, I would still have that degree to fall back on afterwards.”
Working towards a pro career, however, remains his main priority.
“That’s definitely my main goal once I get out of college,” he said. “Hockey is the biggest part of my life. I want to play hockey as long as I can.”
Headrick played a couple of seasons with the Sault Ste. Marie Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League before joining the Lakers. He helped the Thunderbirds win the league championships in 2015.
Headrick was also named the league’s playoff MVP that spring by racking up 20 points, including 12 goals, in 14 post-season matches.
As for this year, Headrick has collected seven points (one goal and six assists) in four contests. At this pace it won’t take him long to pass the 12 points he earned as a rookie with the Lakers in 39 games.
“At the start of the year my goal was to get 20 points,” he said. “If I continue to play well, I think I can surpass that.”
Despite his solid start, Headrick added he hasn’t adjusted the number of points he’d like to achieve by that much.
“I think if everything is going well, maybe I can get 25 points,” he said.
With his seven points this far, Headrick is tied for top spot in team scoring along with three forwards; junior J.T. Henke, sophomore Mitch Hults, and freshman Brayden Gelsinger.
Headrick collected six of his points in the Lakers’ season-opening weekend wins (6-1 and 7-3) over the Michigan State Spartans on Oct. 14 and Oct. 15. As a result, he was selected as the co-winner of the defensive player of the week in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
“That was a big honour,” said Headrick, who is a hair under 6-ft and weighs about 195 pounds.
“I was really pleased to find out I received that. For me it was a reward for all the hard work I’ve put in.
And it showed me I’m getting better.”
But Headrick is not about to rest upon his laurels. He realizes there’s plenty of room for improvement in his game. And he knows he has plenty of hard work ahead of him in order to get better.
“I think everyone can still get stronger and faster,” he said. “Those are my main goals as a player – to get stronger and faster and be more of a resource in my own end.”
The Lakers are sporting a perfect 4-0-0 record so far this season. The club registered a 14-22-5 mark last year and finished seventh in their nine-team league. They were then knocked out of the playoffs after losing their best-of-three quarterfinal series 2-1 against Minnesota State.
Headrick likes how his squad is shaping up now.
“We’re looking really good this year,” he said. “We’re still a fairly young team. We’ve got 10 or 11 sophomores and seven or eight freshmen. But we’re all excited to see what the season has in store for us.”
The Lakers return to action this week, hosting the Alaska Nanooks in a pair of games on Oct. 28 and Oct. 29.
Owen Headrick (Photo: Jodi Defiel)