Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Asuchak having fun despite turbulence

Spencer Asuchak feels that his hockey skills are catching up
to his size, and that is helping his confidence.

(Photo courtesy Prince George Cougars)
Daily News Sports Editor
Despite the fact that this has been something of a turbulent season, Spencer Asuchak, a forward with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars, is in no hurry for it to end.
“I’m having the time of my life,” Asuchak, a 19-year-old forward from Kamloops, said Wednesday. “It’s the most fun I’ve probably ever had playing hockey.”
Since mid-January, Asuchak has served 11 games in suspensions — eight after testing positive for methylhexanamine, a stimulant he acknowledged having taken inadvertently in an energy drink, and three after he was hit with a charging major on Feb. 22.
“It was pretty rough at first, but I had a lot of support from everybody,” Asuchak said of being the first WHL player to be suspended for a positive test.
He still hears about it from the odd opposing player, but said he “never heard anything from the stands.”
Opposing players, he said, “beaked” at him a bit “but nothing too bad.”
Shortly after returning from that suspension, Asuchak ran into goaltender Mac Carruth of the Portland Winterhawks.
“Yeah, I ran into him,” the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Asuchak admitted. “We were racing for the puck. He came out to play it and I was racing down on the forecheck.”
Combine the two suspensions with an early-season concussion and Asuchak’s season has been one of stops and starts.
“He’s had a different season,” Cougars head coach Dean Clark said. “Every time he seems to get going . . . there was the concussion and then he’s going good and he got supsended.
“He’s going good right now but it seems that every time he’s going good he gets hit with something. Hopefully, he doesn’t get hit with anything now.”
Asuchak and the Cougars have two games left in the regular season — they will play the Blazers at Interior Savings Centre on Friday, with a rematch scheduled for Saturday in Prince George.
The Cougars, who won only 12 games last season, go into the weekend at 31-35-4. After being near the top of the B.C. Division, the Cougars fell on hard times. Before venturing south last weekend, they had one win to show for their previous 10 games, and that included seven straight losses at home.
“We had a couple of meetings and got back to being a team and playing together,” Asuchak said. “We put everything else behind us and got back to being positive.”
The results were an 8-0 victory over the Giants in Vancouver on Friday and a 5-1 victory over the Seattle Thunderbirds in Kent, Wash., on Saturday. The Cougars then dropped a 6-3 decision to the Tri-City Americans in Kent, Wash., on Sunday, but are hopeful that they are back on the right track.
Which brings us to this weekend.
“I’m pretty excited,” said Asuchak, who has career highs in goals (17), assists (12) and points (29), all in 57 games. “It’s going to be a battle.”
Now it’s down to the last two games of the season, with the Cougars holding down the last playoff spot, three points ahead of the Blazers and Seattle Thunderbirds.
What that means is that the Blazers have to win in regulation time on Friday night in order for Saturday’s game to mean anything.
“That’s crazy,” Asuchak said.
Asuchak, who was born in Fort St. John, played midget B and major midget in Kamloops. He attended Vancouver’s training camp at 16, then was listed by the Americans and twice attended their camp before signing and staying for 2008-09. Early last season, he was traded to the Cougars who were rebuilding and loved his size.
Asuchak has always been big and is a fitness buff. He is 19, but he’s a late birthday (Nov. 22), and feels that only now is his co-ordination catching up with his size.
“He’s a 6-foot-4 kid who can skate really well,” Clark said. “He has to work on other parts of his game but in straight-ahead speed he’s really, really good.”
“It’s just confidence,” Asuchak said. “I kind of grew into my body a little bit more. My skating got way better and I got a lot faster and stronger. My skill is catching up a bit so I can bury every once in a while.”
Which is what he did Saturday against the Thunderbirds, his 17th goal breaking a 1-1 tie at 11:02 of the third period.
“That was big,” Asuchak said, and you could almost see his smile all the way from Prince George.
JUST NOTES: The Blazers have signed F Dallas Calvin, 16, to a WHL contract. Calvin was placed on their protected list in September. Calvin, who is from Trail, had 40 points in 40 regular-season games with the junior B Beaver Valley Nitehawks. He added 17 points in 12 playoff games. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder is practising with the Blazers this week. . . . As they have done prior to the final home game in each of the last two seasons, the Blazers will hand out their individual awards prior to Friday's game. . . . G Kurtis Mucha, who finished up his WHL career with the Blazers a year ago, will lead the U of Alberta Golden Bears into the CIS championship tournament at the U of New Brunswick next weekend. He goes in having put up four shutouts in his last eight appearances, two of them in the playoffs. Alberta swept Manitoba and Calgary in the playoffs, with Mucha recording a 0.50 GAA and a .980 save percentage.
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