Taking His Time
Merrimack's Lashyn Uses Extra Year in Juniors to Prepare For College Toll
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. With players verbally committing to college programs at younger ages, it’s commonplace for the terms of those handshake agreements to change over time.
Often it’s the college programs asking the players for another of junior hockey, or perhaps a year at a prep school, in order for the player to get stronger or to refine his overall game. Other times, an expected early pro signing decided to stick with getting his degree and there isn’t a roster spot or scholarship available.
For Merrimack freshman defenseman Jonathan Lashyn, that decision came from a different direction. Lashyn, who had two points in Merrimack’s 3-2 win over Massachusetts on Saturday, asked to go back to the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League last season.
“He thought he could get better and get stronger,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “He’s a man.”
Lashyn isn’t the first former Kodiak to take an extra season before matriculating to Merrimack. Karl Stollery, who is now under contract with the Colorado Avalanche, followed a similar path.
“Johnny is maybe stronger at this stage,” Dennehy said. “Stollery’s skating was phenomenal. Jon’s skating is good and he’s working on it, but I’ll tell you something, Jon is a bull. When he decides he’s going to the net, no one is going to stop him. He’s a beast.”
Lashyn only has four points on the season, but he’s played a vital role for the Warriors, who are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games after starting the season 3-9-1. His knack for the net – he scored 12 goals last season for Camrose to go with 26 points in 50 games – is starting to manifest itself for the Warriors.
“It’s always fun to skate up close to the net,” said Lashyn, who plays on the right side for the Warriors. “It’s defense first, so you have to pick your spots, but we don’t get many chances like that on the back end.”
One such chance came in the third period last Saturday, with the Warriors trailing a goal. Lashyn took the puck from the right point and charged the net, flipping the puck to his back hand for getting crosschecked from behind by a UMass defender and crashing into Minuteman goalie Steve Mastalerz. After getting back to his feet, he was swiping at a loose puck that was eventually knocked in by fellow freshman Chris LeBlanc.
“I remember thinking that there was a loose puck out there somewhere and an open net, and it would be nice if the puck went in it,” he said.
“The extra year in Camrose definitely helped me. I was able to work with (head coach) Boris Rybalka on the parts of my game that I needed to work on and I definitely think it helped me get ready for this season.”
There isn’t any secret potion when it comes to Lashyn’s success.
“If you’re here during the week, at any given time, he’s here shooting pucks, skating or working on his edge work,” said Merrimack junior Justin Mansfield, who has been regularly paired with Lashyn this season. “It’s was only a matter of time before he had a game like (Saturday).”
Mansfield has been another story for the Warriors. A converted forward, he’s been moving back and forth between defense and left wing the past week, including this past Saturday skating at both positions in the same game.
“Our relationship on the ice has developed,” he said of his D partner. “I’m really comfortable with him back there and I think you can see that. I was up at forward for two-thirds of the game and then I moved back on D with him and we didn’t miss a beat. It’s easy playing with a guy like that.”
Added Lashyn, “I think (Mansfield) is the real beast.”
The comparisons between Stollery and Lashyn are hard to ignore. They’re both from Alberta, they’re both similar in stature and size, they both wear No. 7 with Merrimack and they both played for the Kodiaks, taking an extra year before college hockey. Their roles at Merrimack will also likely evolve into the same: a big-minute defenseman who is as reliable as they come.
But at the same time, the two players come into the Merrimack program at different stages. Dennehy believes Lashyn can be every bit the defenseman Stollery was, but hopefully the Warriors are able to leave more gas in his tank.
“When Stollery got here we were playing him 20 minutes a game because we needed him,” Dennehy said. “John is getting quality minutes, but not as much as Karl. I’ve said this before, in Karl Stollery’s four years, the only player that could have possibly gotten more ice time than he did, in the country, would have had to be a goalie, because he literally played more minutes than anybody I’ve ever seen. John might get to that point, but hopefully he doesn’t because that means we’ve got more depth on D and we can rotate guys through. But trust me, he wants that. He wants it, and he’s working towards it.
“There’s some rough edges there that we have to buff out, but he’s already differentiated himself as one of the hardest workers in our program.”