By Sam Laskaris
ERIE, PENNSYLVANIA – As it turns out Troy Lajeunesse will not be completing his junior hockey career close to home.
Or even in Canada for that matter.
Lajeunesse, a 20-year-old forward from the Dokis First Nation, had spent his first three Ontario Hockey League (OHL) seasons with the Sarnia Sting.
This past October, however, Lajeunesse welcomed a trade to the Sudbury Wolves as he was returning to a northern Ontario city close to home.
But this past week Lajeunesse was on the move once again. A day prior to the OHL trade deadline of Jan. 10, the Wolves dealt him to the Erie Otters.
The Pennsylvania-based Otters are one of three American squads that compete in the 20-team OHL.
Lajeunesse said he was not disappointed to be traded once again.
“I was excited to get a fresh start here,” he said of his move to the Otters.
Lajeunesse though was a bit surprised that the Wolves did trade him. He said he had been told by Wolves’ general manager Rob Papineau one day earlier that he would not be going anywhere.
But then, the day of the trade, Lajeunesse said Papineau told him during a Wolves’ practice that he indeed had been dealt to the Otters.
Sudbury opted to trade Lajeunesse in order to give some of its younger players more ice time the rest of this season. In exchange the Wolves received the Otters’ 2020 fifth-round pick in the OHL Priority Selection draft.
The move to Erie, however, was not a complete shock to Lajeunesse. That’s because one of friends, Otters’ defenceman Owen Headrick, who is from the Garden River Frist Nation, had told him prior to the trade deadline that he had heard rumours the Erie organization was interested in obtaining him.
Lajeunesse and Headrick have known each other since they were youngsters. They have played together in a number of Indigenous tournaments, including the Little NHL.
Headrick, who like Lajeunesse is 20 and in his final season of junior eligibility, was also rumoured to be on the move in the days leading up to the trade deadline. But he stayed with the Otters’ organization.
Though Lajeunesse has been in the OHL for four years now, he said Headrick is the only player from the Erie squad that he knew prior to his trade.
“It helped a lot (that I know Owen),” said Lajeunesse, who had earned 25 points, including seven goals, in 33 games with the Wolves. “If he had been traded too I wouldn’t have known anybody. It’s good that I knew somebody. He’s introduced me to everybody so it’s pretty cool.”
Lajeunesse has already played three games with the Erie squad. He made his Otters’ debut this past Thursday on the road as Erie was edged 5-4 by the host Niagara IceDogs in a shootout.
Lajeunesse and his teammates then had a pair of close games on home ice during the weekend. Erie was downed 5-3 by the IceDogs on Saturday, a game in which Lajeunesse picked up his first point, an assist, in an Otters’ jersey. Erie rebounded from this setback to edge the Flint Firebirds 4-3 in a shootout on Sunday.
“I’m having fun here,” Lajeunesse said of his first few days with his new club. “I like the guys here.”
The Otters are back in action this Friday with a road contest against the Kitchener Rangers.
The Erie squad captured the OHL championship last season but has had its share of struggles this season in its rebuilding year.
The Otters are currently sporting a 13-21-6-3 record. With its 35 points, Erie is currently four points behind the Owen Sound Attack, which is holding down the eighth and final playoff spot in the league’s Western Conference.
Erie has 25 regular season matches remaining.
“I think we’ll get a (playoff) spot,” Lajeunesse said. “We just have to figure out a few things and once we do that we’ll be okay.”