It’s been a long and winding road for Fort Frances Lakers’ forward Tyler Stevenson. But if the performance from the team’s captain so far this season is any indication, the hard travels soon may be worth it.
The 20-year-old Edmonton native currently holds the SIJHL lead in goals scored with 32 in 47 games, and is tied with Byron Katapaytuk for the team lead in points with 53.
For Stevenson, he says his offensive success just comes from taking what he learns during practice into the actual heat of battle.
“I just try and treat every shot in practice as if it’s an in-game situation,” he explained.
“I try to be one of the first guys out on the ice and one of the last guys off of it, and I just try and shoot as much as I can because if you can just get a shot on net, you never know when one might go in,” he reasoned.
That work ethic has seen Stevenson increase his point total from a season ago, when he had 21 goals and 28 assists in 50 regular-season games, along with four goals and four assists during 13 playoff contests for the Lakers.
“Tyler’s definitely a very gifted offensive player,” Lakers’ coach and general manager Wayne Strachan said.
“During the latter part of last season and in the playoffs, we were wanting him to compete more and I think that’s something that he learned during the off-season.
“He came back really hungry and he’s done a great job for us this year.
“There’s not many better in this league with the touch that he has around the net,” Strachan lauded.
Along with his offensive skills, Stevenson is looked to as one of the leaders in the Lakers’ dressing room, which became ever more evident after the team traded then-captain Colton Kennedy last January.
“Once we traded Colton, we had to name a captain, and throughout last year Tyler led us the most in the dressing room,” Strachan explained.
“He’s someone that the team respects and looks up to, and he’s very intelligent, hockey-wise, so that helps him in not only motivating his teammates, but also himself into competing hard out on the ice.”
“It was definitely a little different once Colton left,” Stevenson admitted. “But to get the ‘C’ was a nice honour, obviously, and especially in a place such as this it was a greet feeling.”
Having played the game since the age of four, Stevenson began his junior ‘A’ career in Quebec with the Temiscaming Royals in 2009 when the team was just starting in the NOJHL.
“It was a bit different starting there, but luckily I knew some French so I sort of knew what was going on,” Stevenson smiled.
“It was a nice way to get involved in a junior atmosphere, and since they were a new team, I was given a pretty good role when I got there,” he noted.
“So it was a good way to prepare myself for coming here.”
After finishing the season with the Royals, Stevenson wanted to play closer to home and got that wish when he was dealt to the Neepawa Native of the MJHL during the off-season.
But after taking part in the first week of training camp, the Native made a coaching change, which resulted in both Stevenson and Blake Boaz being dealt to Fort Frances, where Stevenson has enjoyed plying his trade.
“It’s a great town and a great place to be,” he enthused. “It’s got everything you need, but it still has that nice small-town feel.
“And the group of fans here are really passionate about hockey.”
With his junior eligibility coming to an end at the close of this season, Stevenson is looking at his post-secondary options, with a few schools in the Edmonton area contacting him to be a part of their ACAC hockey programs.
“I really don’t want this to be my last year of playing hockey,” Stevenson stressed.
“I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get a scholarship somewhere, and also have a chance to begin on my next career path, as well, with whatever program I chose to take while I’m at school.”
“For his sake, I hope he’ll get that opportunity,” Strachan added.
“I think he definitely wants to play at a higher level, and he’s got the drive and motivation to do it, but it’ll all come down to someone giving him that opportunity.”
In the meantime, Stevenson’s main focus is to help lead the Lakers to the SIJHL crown, which is something he feels the team has a very good shot of doing.
“The entire team is a very good competitive group,” Stevenson noted. “We have guys on all of our lines that could be key guys on any roster, and we’re deep all the way through the lineup.
“I think we might be the deepest team in the league and I think that we’re built to win it all,” he reasoned.