Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bad break doesn't stop Shinkaruk

Editor, Taking Note
Hunter Shinkaruk is penning quite a story with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers.
After all, when is the last time a player missed virtually all of his midget AAA season and returned at the WHL level?
In fact, not only has Shinkaruk gotten back into the game at the WHL level, he is a major contributor to the success the Tigers are enjoying this season.
“He’s been great,” Medicine Hat head coach Shaun Clouston says. “He’s a really excellent young man. He’s very smart. He’s very dedicated.”
He must be.
Shinkaruk, 16, was born and raised in Calgary. In fact, his father, Roger, is the team dentist for the Calgary Hitmen. Hunter played bantam AAA with the Calgary Royals — he missed four weeks with a hip injury — and was selected by the Tigers with the 14th overall pick in the 2009 bantam draft.
He moved up to the midget AAA Royals for 2009-10 but disaster struck early in the season.
“It was the third game of the season,” Shinkaruk recalls. “We were in Fort Saskatchewan. I got hit and I kind of fell awkwardly on my leg.”
 He broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg. He didn’t play again that season, thanks primarily to the hip-to-toe cast.“Some people might say it was dirty, but that’s hockey. You get hurt,” he says.
As Shinkaruk was laying on the ice after that hit, he says he “knew something was wrong, for sure.”
Two weeks earlier, he had been named to the Alberta U-16 team that was to play in the inaugural Western Canada Challenge Cup in Blackfalds, Alta.
“I was very excited about that,” he says.
So what was the first thing he thought about when he was laying on the ice that day in Fort Saskatchewan?
He laughs and says: “That was the first thing that popped into my brain — I probably won’t be able to play in that tournament. While I was laying on the ice . . . that was the first thing that set in.”
It wasn’t long, though, before he came to realize how much work was ahead of him.
He says he especially is indebted to Kent Kobelka, a native of Revelstoke, B.C., who works with Hockey Canada and was the therapist for the 2010 Canadian Olympic men’s hockey team.
“I had a great physiotherapist,” Shinkaruk says “He was huge in getting me back on the ice.
“You look at things and try to make positives out of them. We worked hard to get my leg stronger and get my whole body stronger so I’d be ready to make the jump into this league.”
Clouston agrees that Shinkaruk dedicated himself to getting stronger and rehabbing the leg over the summer.
“He worked very, very hard in the summer,” Clouston says. “He went to some different camps. He is just an exceptional young player.”
Shinkaruk spent some time in Toronto, where he skated and worked with NHLers like Mike Cammalleri and Andrew Cogliano. Shinkaruk also skated in Calgary with pros like Mason Raymond.
The one thing he learned from being around those NHLers is that “they work a lot harder than some people and that’s one of the things you try to bring to your game.
“When you’re with them, you realize how close but also how far away you are (to being at their level). So you keep on working and hopefully one day we’ll be skating with them in The Show.”
Shinkaruk also learned that those NHL players are people, too.
“They’re great guys,” he says. “They work so hard but at the same time they like to have fun. I can’t say enough good things about them.
“They taught me a lot over the summer. They’re a big reason why I’m having the season here this year.”
In his first 32 games, he earned 22 points, including nine goals. For the most part, he has been playing on a line with captain Wacey Hamilton, 20, and Tyler Pitlick, 19, a 2010 draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers who left Minnesota State-Mankato to join the Tigers.
“They’re two great linemates,” Shinkaruk says, adding that his game plan is simple.
“I just try to come to the rink every day and learn new things and work really hard because that’s something a lot of players need to do to make the next level.”
Shinkaruk, who was an all-star as he helped Team Pacific to a bronze medal at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg after Christmas, doesn’t even sound surprised that he stuck with the Tigers even though he hardly played last season. He has always had confidence in his game and the broken leg didn’t cost him any of that.
“The confidence in my game stuck with me, which I’m thankful for,” he says. “I knew my leg was strong and I knew I just had to keep playing the way I can play. I was lucky I had a good training camp; I’m lucky with how everything has worked out so far.”

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