Former Westlock resident Jesse Stymiest is moving onwards and upwards in his hockey career, having netted himself a spot on the Lindsay Muskies of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
The 19-year-old defenceman spent his formative years with the Westlock & District Minor Hockey Association, and said while he looks back on those days fondly it’s a different game in Ontario.
“I find the game a lot quicker. It’s just a higher level overall,” he said. “Our division in the league is the strongest of all of them, so it’s really tight,” he said.
At this level, he said another significant difference is that he has to fight for his ice time.
“You’re responsible for your own ice time,” he said. “If you play bad you’re not going to get any ice time; if you play good, you’ll get more time. You’ve got to earn your spot.”
That degree of personal responsibility means that practicing and keeping in shape are basically a full-time job for the players.
“There’s a lot of working out,” Stymiest said. “Every morning you go to the gym, then every afternoon you go to practice.”
The skill of his competition in the league has been a big adjustment for him, he said. He tended to play on teams that placed first in their league in the Westlock area, whereas the Muskies are hovering around fourth or fifth place.
The OJHL is one step down from the Ontario Hockey League, which is the equivalent to the Western Hockey League in this part of the country.
“From the OHL you can go to the NHL, but that’s a big step,” he said.
While Stymiest doesn’t deny he’d like to play in the NHL, he said a more realistic goal for him would be to get a scholarship to go to the school somewhere in the U.S.
If he wasn’t playing hockey, he said, he’d likely be going to school, and apprenticing for a trade.
He said while he’s enjoying his time in Ontario, he’s happy to be able to get back to the Westlock area to spend some time with his friends and family.
“I don’t find it that bad yet. It might get worse, but it’s only for the winter,” he said. “I’ve got all summer to come back and hang out with the family.”