The Ottawa Senators' annual Minor Hockey Week presented by Scotiabank is underway. As part of Minor Hockey Week in Ottawa, a handful of Senators recalled some of their favourite minor hockey memories which set them on their path to what is now life in the NHL.
Among current Senators, Curtis Lazar is the most recent player to have gone through the minor hockey circuit. The Salmon Arm, B.C., native caught on with Ottawa's NHL club at the age of 19. NHL games look right at home on his resume, next to a World Juniors appearance and Memorial Cup title.
Lazar's beginnings, like many of his fellow pros, grew out of a less glamorous setting than the NHL spotlight or Team Canada sweater.
"Just tournaments, travelling away, you get into the team spirit," said Lazar. "The big thing was the day you get your tracksuits and wear them around school and at the tournaments, playing mini sticks in the hotels and two-a-days and sometimes even three games a day."
"That's when it all comes together and inspires the dream."
The comradery amongst temmates and travel to campsites or hotels are what Lazar lists as his favourite parts of being a minor hockey player. For a favourite tournament memory, he heads an hour south from his hometown of Salmon Arm to Vernon, B.C. — two towns which were the focal point of his time as a minor hockey player.
"In Vernon they have what's called the Vernon Winter Carnival and the peewee hockey tournament is a marquee event," said Lazar. "They have Miss Silver Star there from the mountain resorts and she would come on the ice. As the captain, which I was one year when I was there, in the ceremonial faceoff of the feature game you get to kiss her on the cheek. That was a big thing for all the peewee players."
Lazar is the only member of his minor hockey teams to make the NHL to this point. He considers it an honour to be the first, crediting years of teammates for putting him in an opportunity to make that dream a reality. He notes there is something special about being able to go back and see where he started as a player who has experience so much in his short career.
"It's something special any time you get to go to the rinks you played in growing up," said Lazar. "You're in morning practice before school and whatnot — that's what makes it worthwhile. I'm never going to forget my roots or where I came from."
"I would never be in the National Hockey League if it weren't for a good minor hockey upbringing. All my coaches, the associations and all they've done for me."
The Ottawa Senators Minor Hockey Week, which takes place in partnership with Scotiabank, features programs and initiatives that highlight teams, associations, coaches, players and volunteers in a salute to the region’s minor hockey communities.
If you're a member of Ottawa's minor hockey community and would like to find out more about what is available from Nov. 1 to 8, visit ottawasenators.com/minorhockeyweek.