By Sam Laskaris
ERIE, PENNSYLVANIA—Owen Headrick has had a change of heart about which route will best give him a chance to become a professional hockey player.
The 19-year-old Ojibwe defenceman from Garden River First Nation had spent the past year and a half toiling for the Lake Superior State Lakers, an NCAA Division 1 university squad based in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, before making his big move.
Headrick made the decision to leave the Lakers on January 18 to join the Erie Otters, the Pennsylvania-based hockey club and members of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
The Otters had originally selected Headrick in the 2013 OHL draft. And during the following two years, the Erie franchise had repeatedly tried to recruit him to join the club.
But up until recently, Headrick was keen to play with the Lakers and get his university education provided through a scholarship. He explained why he changed his mind and opted to join the Otters instead.
“For me, it was just the right move,” he said. “The decision was based on what is best for my hockey career.”
OHL clubs play a 68-game regular season schedule, in many cases twice as many matches that U.S. university teams play.
“I think it’s definitely more of a pro lifestyle,” Headrick said of the OHL. “I definitely like that.”
Headrick is keen to eventually become a pro player. He was eligible to be chosen in the National Hockey League’s Entry Draft in each of the past two years, but he was never selected.
This past June especially there was considerable talk a team might select him.
Headrick is still eligible to be chosen in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft this June.
He believes joining the Otters will give him more exposure to pro scouts.
“If I can play well the rest of this year I think that there’s maybe a chance I will get drafted,” Headrick said.
But if that does not happen, Headrick is still hoping to get an invitation from an NHL franchise to attend a rookie camp this summer.
Many OHL followers believe the Otters are poised to have a lengthy playoff run this spring. And the squad is considered one of the favourites to win the OHL championship.
“We’re hoping so,” Headrick said. “We’ve got a lot of experienced guys. They’re guys that know how to win.”
It certainly didn’t take Headrick long to have an impact with the Otters. He scored a goal in his first outing in an Otters’ jersey on January 20, in an 8-2 triumph over the host, the Sarnia Sting.
“It was an awesome feeling to be able to score my first [OHL] goal in my first game,” he said.
And it didn’t take Headrick long to feel like part of his new club either.
“Everybody in the organization has been so welcoming,” he said.
The club returns to action tonight (Friday) with a road contest against the London Knights.
Before joining the Otters, Headrick had appeared in 24 contests with the Lakers this season. He had earned 15 points, including a pair of goals, and was the team’s top point-getter among defencemen.
Though he will not be taking any classes this semester, Headrick is interested in resuming his schooling. He plans to take online courses in the future (not necessarily through Lake Superior State) to obtain his university degree.
Headrick was taking Criminal Justice courses at his former school.