While most hockey players would not appreciate going from the top line to the fourth line, for Luke Gingras it is just another step in his hockey development.
Gingras played the first eight games of the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League season with the Valley West Hawks, notching eight goals and 20 points in that short span.
But the Western Hockey League’s Saskatoon Blades — who drafted the Langley teen in the fourth round of the 2013 WHL annual bantam draft — called the centre up, initially for a few games, and then for the remainder of the season.
“It was definitely exciting when I got called up,” Gingras said. “But I was nervous.”
The 16-year-old went to training camp with the Blades in the summer, aiming to land a full-time roster spot in Saskatoon.
He had a decent showing in camp, but the Blades thought it would be best for him to play a second season in the Major Midget Hockey League, which is for 15 to 17-year-olds.
The WHL is for 16 to 20-year-olds.
“We felt it would be best for him to go back and get some grooming and get some confidence and he did that,” said Saskatoon assistant general manager Steve Hildebrand.
“(And) he didn’t go back and mope; he went back and had a purpose to his game.”
Prior to the start of the season, the Hawks tabbed Gingras with the captaincy.
“He was a kid who carried himself with an air of responsibility,” said Valley West coach Jessie Leung.
“He learned a lot from our captain last year, Paul Savage, of how to command respect without demanding it, and I thought he did a great job of that this year.”
In his first season with Valley West, Gingras did not look out of place, scoring 14 goals and 23 points in 36 games. He was tied for third on the team in goals, despite playing primarily a defensive role.
Leung noticed a maturity in Gingras before the season even began.
“In pre-season this year, I saw him twirling out of the corner and he was getting slashed and hacked all the way through,” the coach recalled. “Luke from last year would have turned around and punched the kid in the face and taken a penalty.
“But the Luke from this year, just took (the hacks), went right to the net and scored a goal. For me, that was a key moment of realizing how much he had matured and grown.”
When the Blades brought him up, Gingras proved he was ready for the next level.
“They get a hardworking player, one who can contribute in a bunch of different ways,” Leung said.
“He learned from what happened and proved to us that he belongs,” Hildebrand said.
“He has got the skill and he is not afraid: he throws his body around.
“He can handle the grind of it. Some kids his age can’t, but he is a big enough kid, a strong enough kid.”
The Blades are going through a rebuilding season, sitting in last place in their division with a record of 7-20-2-0.
And while Gingras has yet to register a point in his first 11 games, he is taking it all in stride.
“Yes, you want to be out there and getting opportunities, but I understand … I am not going to get those opportunities (yet),” he said.
The biggest adjustment — besides living away from home for the first time — has been the fact he is up against “bigger, faster, stronger” players who are three and four years his senior.
“The last couple of games have been tough,” Gingras admitted.
“The first couple of games, I was able to keep up and stay aggressive, tough and hitting.”
With the Blades currently in B.C., Gingras expects to have about 40 family members and friends in attendance on Saturday (Dec. 6) night against the Vancouver Giants at the Pacific Coliseum.
“I am excited, it should be fun,” he said.