Austin Evans spent two days this week showing his skills to scouts from U.S. colleges as he looks to continue his career beyond the Junior A level. For the rest of the season, he’ll be hoping to help the Battlefords North Stars rebound from what’s been a tough start to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) season.
The Whistler product is in his second season with the North Stars, who will be counting on him to provide some scoring up front and veteran leadership in the room this year.
“I’m taking responsibility to be a top guy this year and be a top scorer for the team to help us win games,” Evans, 18, said Monday (Sept. 30) from Saskatoon, where he was preparing to participate in the two-day SJHL Showcase.
Evans was one of 120 players selected for the league showcase, which assembled the league’s top skaters into teams for two days of scrimmaging in front of NCAA scouts on Monday and Tuesday (Oct. 1). For many players, post-secondary hockey is the goal beyond the Junior A level.
“This is going to be cool. I don’t really know what to expect, I just know there are a lot of schools coming and I just have to do my best and see what happens,” said Evans.
If the scouts on hand for the event were to take North Stars head coach Kevin Hasselberg’s word, any school taking a chance on Evans would be bringing “a pretty valuable player” into their fold.
“Austin’s a top-six forward who brings offence, energy and consistency in his game,” said Hasselberg. “He’s a unique player who brings unique qualities to our team that other players don’t.”
Evans posted 11 goals and 27 points in 52 games for the Stars last season, and also scored twice in three postseason appearances.
The 5’8” forward said he had a great training camp to open the 2013-14 campaign but was suspended for the first two games of the regular season after taking a checking-from-behind penalty in the North Stars’ final preseason game against Manitoba’s Dauphin Kings. The suspension was particularly difficult for Evans as he watched his team drop both parts of a home-and-home series with the Kindersley Klippers to kick off the schedule.
“That’s not really who I am — that was my first suspension from hockey, ever,” said Evans. “That was kind of disappointing because we ended up going 0-2 to start the year there.”
Evans has scored once in three games since returning to the lineup, and he’ll be looking to get his name on the scoresheet more often as the North Stars look to improve on their current 1-4 record.
“I need to be producing and scoring goals to help us win games that way because I’m not the biggest guy,” said Evans, who believes the Battlefords roster is deep enough to weather the rough start to the year.
“We’ve got a lot of returning guys, but also a lot of new guys coming in. We don’t have a lot of rookies — we’re a veteran group and I think we’ve just got to focus more defensively,” he said. “We’re the biggest team in the SJHL … so if we can use that to our advantage, not cross the line and take penalties, and punish teams with our size and drive the net, I think we’ll be good.”
Evans has now played parts of four seasons between the SJHL and BCHL, and his achievements at the Junior A level make him one of the most successful players to ever come out of the Whistler Minor Hockey Association (WMHA). That’s a distinction that he’s honoured to hold.
“It really is cool,” said Evans. “Garrett (Milan, another WMHA product playing for the NCAA’s St. Cloud State Huskies) and I ran a couple of hockey camps this summer and kids from Whistler don’t really realize where we are.
“We volunteered to kind of show the kids that … it doesn’t matter where you’re from. As long as you have the passion and work ethic, you can really go anywhere with hockey.”