Lauzon has been one important import for Caribous

Kenn Oliver
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Caribous 5, CeeBees 4

If one were to liken the West Coast Senior Hockey League's recruitment of import players to an arms race, the Clarenville Caribous would be winning.

Under its current management and with its stable of local players, the organization has managed to attract some of the league's best imported hockey talent.

Ryan Lauzon - Photo by Kenn Oliver/The Telegram

If one were to liken the West Coast Senior Hockey League's recruitment of import players to an arms race, the Clarenville Caribous would be winning.

Under its current management and with its stable of local players, the organization has managed to attract some of the league's best imported hockey talent.

Last season, defencemen Jordan Smith and Dan Rogers, both out of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., were key components as the team won the Herder Memorial Trophy. This season, defencemen David Victor, formerly of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, and Travis Chapman, a one-time Ontario Hockey League player who spent four years with the Saint Mary's Huskies of the Atlantic universities conference, were brought in to assists in Clarenville's quest to repeat as provincial senior hockey champion.

But without question, the team's most prized import is Halifax native Ryan Lauzon.

The 29-year-old forward finished third in team scoring this season (with 27 points, including 13 goals) despite playing just 16 of the club's 24 games. In 10 games with the Caribous in 2008-09, he recorded 18 points. That means, in his two years with Clarenville, Lauzon has averaged nearly two points per game in the regular season.

He's maintained that pace come playoff time. In the 2009 post-season, he had 14 points in nine games. This spring, he's upped the ante, notching 18 in 10 games.

Lauzon played the first two games of last year's Herder final, but was home with girlfriend Crystal awaiting the birth of their first child, Morgan, as Games 3 and 4 were played. But with the baby still waiting to make her world debut, Lauzon did make it back to Newfoundland for what turned out to be Clarenville's Herder-clinching Game 5. That was after Caribous' general manager Derek MacPhee said he would arrange for Lauzon to fly in on the morning of game day.

"I said 'Geeze, let me get back to you in about five minutes,'" Lauzon recounted.

"My girlfriend was really supportive, always has been, she said 'The baby's not coming any time soon, so go ahead.'

"I flew out the next morning and was able to play in Game 5. That was a real classy thing for Clarenville to do."

Lauzon, who works as a frontline security supervisor for a men's homeless shelter in Ottawa (he is going through the application process with the Ottawa Police Service) ended up with Clarenville through the efforts of Caribous' captain Dustin Russell, who had been Lauzon's teammate on the QMJHL's Hull Olympiques.

"(Russell) actually wrote Crystal on Facebook asking for another mutual teammate's phone number to get him to come play. (But then) he figured 'Why not ask Ryan, take a shot in the dark and see if he wants to play?'" Lauzon explained.

"Turns out he got me instead of the other guy."

Lived here for three years in the 1990s

Lauzon may be an import, but his hockey rÉsumÉ does include three previous years of hockey in Newfoundland. In 1990, his family relocated here and Lauzon spent a year in the St. John's minor system and another two in Mount Pearl minor before the Lauzons returned to Halifax.

While those three years surely created many memories, a single night in the fall of 2000 provided one he'll definitely never forget.

After averaging nearly a point per game (234 in 235 contests) in four years with Hull, Lauzon was drafted in the fourth round, 116th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in 1999. After graduating from junior, Lauzon started the 2000-01 season with the Coyotes' American Hockey League affiliate, the Springfield Falcons. In just his fourth professional game, while in St. John's for a matchup with Maple Leafs at Memorial Stadium, Lauzon had his jaw broken.

"That set me back," says Lauzon. "I lost 20 to 25 pounds, was out for over two months. It was a really tough way to start my career."

Lauzon finished that season in Springfield, but would only enjoy brief stints with the team over the next two seasons.

Most of those two seasons were spent in the ECHL, first with the Mississippi Sea Wolves - where he was a reunited with former Hull teammate Michael Ryder - and then the Augusta Lynx - "we had a rough year that year, with over 50 guys in the lineup throughout the season."

In 2004, Lauzon enrolled at Saint Mary's in Halifax, where he played with the Huskies and majored in criminology. But after two years at SMU, he joined the Wichita Thunder of the Central Hockey League in 2006-07, scoring 51 points in 57 games.

That turned out to his last pro season.

"I really had no other offers. I pretty much figured my career was finished," he said.

But then came the call from Russell and the opportunity with the Caribous.

"It's almost like a second career for me," Lauzon said.

After arriving in Clarenville last year, he quickly realized he wasn't in Kansas anymore.

"It was the most fun I've had playing hockey in over 10 years," Russell says of his inaugural year in Clarenville.

"I wasn't sure (about coming back) this season, especially with a young daughter. It took me a while to decide, but I felt we would have a pretty good team and I had such a blast the year before, I almost had to come back."

Now, for a second straight year, Lauzon and the Caribous find themselves vying for the Herder. And while he may not share all the culture-fed Herder passion of some of his Newfoundland-born teammates, being immersed in the camaraderie, competition, fan spirit and joy of playing a game with meaning has value enough.

"When you get in there with the crowd, into a playoff series with teammates, it's still hockey and everyone's striving for the one goal," he said.

"And it's the Herder. It's great to be part of it."

koliver@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, West Coast Senior Hockey League, Lakehead University Ontario Hockey League Phoenix Coyotes Ottawa Police Service American Hockey League Maple Leafs Central Hockey League

Geographic location: Clarenville, Halifax, Saint Mary Newfoundland Thunder Bay St. John's Hull Ottawa Mount Pearl Memorial Stadium Springfield Kansas

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