SURREY — For Luka Burzan, life is good in Moose Jaw.
On the ice, the Surrey-raised player is scoring some goals for the Warriors, the WHL team that has put the south-central Saskatchewan town on the map.
Off the ice, it’s been a relatively smooth transition for a rookie player adapting to life in Major Junior hockey.
“I’ve got great billets at home and they’ve welcomed me to the family, and all the guys on the team are nice and they’re all really great teammates,” said Burzan, who turned 17 on Saturday (Jan. 7).
“The transition has been good for me, pretty easy.”
As one of Canada’s top 2000-born hockey prospects, Burzan will be “home” this Friday night (Jan. 13) when his Warriors visit Langley Events Centre for a game against Vancouver Giants.
This season, the left-shooting centre has scored 11 goals and nine assists in 37 games – solid stats for a newbie in the tough Western league.
CLICK HERE to see Burzan’s player profile on the Warriors’ website.
“I’m pretty happy with my start right now, because it’s pretty hard as a 16-year-old in this league, but I’ve done pretty well and I’ve gotten better since the start of the year,” Burzan told the Now on Thursday, two days before his birthday.
“My (coaches) have developed me a lot and it’s getting a little bit easier to be in the league, you know – not being nervous and just going out there and playing my game.”
The Surrey Minor Hockey Association product played his second year of bantam with North Shore Winter Club, where he scored 84 goals and added 57 assists in just 67 games – enough to earn “Hockey Now” magazine’s 2015 B.C. Minor Hockey Player of the Year honours.
Burzan’s goal-scoring abilities and speed prompted the WHL Warriors to select him sixth overall in the 2015 bantam draft.
Last hockey season, the Guildford-area resident was a scoring leader for the Valley West Hawks of the B.C. Major Midget League. Coming in, Burzan had a bit of a reputation as a selfish player, said head coach Jessie Leung, who saw the sniper develop his game on a number of levels during the team’s B.C.-championship season.
“My take on it is, Luka is just a kid who wants his team to win, and the person he trusts most to get that done is himself,” Leung said. “He used to get that selfish-player rap, but I think last season we helped him understand that, you know, moving up, there are going to be better players, that it’s not just him who needs to do that, and you’re starting to see that in Moose Jaw as well.”
Leung recalls one game in particular when Burzan put his elite talent to work for the Hawks.
“During our first game in the Mac’s tournament (in Calgary), we were down 3-1 with a minute and half left, and we were on the penalty kill,” Leung said. “So Luka scores two goals, shorthanded, in 20 seconds to pull us even, for the tie, which was really important for us in that tourney. He salvaged that one for us, and for me it was prototypical Luka. That really spoke to me that he could put the team on his back and make a difference for his team. You saw his high-end skating and you saw his high-end finishing. He scored some big goals like that for us last season.”
Last February, Burzan left the Hawks for a couple of weeks to play for Canada at the Youth Olympic Winter Games. In Norway, the squad lost 5-2 to the U.S. in the final to earn the silver medal.
Then, in November, Burzan and fellow Surreyite Tyler Popowich scored silver medals as members of Team Canada Black at the 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. The squad lost 2-1 to Sweden in the gold-medal game.
“It was a great feeling representing the country like that, and I was proud to be there, proud of the team, even though it wasn’t the result we wanted,” Burzan said of the fall tournament.
On Friday against the Giants, Popowich will play on the home team when Burzan’s Warriors visit.
“We’ve always known each other growing up, and he’s a really good buddy of mine, so it was nice being on the (U17) team with him, on the same line, even,” Burzan said.
“But now I’ll be doing my best to score against his team,” he added. “Growing up, I always watched the Giants and wanted to be drafted by them as a kid, and now that I get to play against them at home, with my family and friends there, I’m looking forward to that, for sure. Hopefully we can pull off a win there.”
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