By GENE PEREIRA
Aaron Luchuk went to bed a Windsor Spitfire on Dec. 13 and when he woke up the next morning his whole world had changed. He was told he had been traded to the Barrie Colts and would have to leave the city he had called home for five years and grown to love.
The 20-year-old decided to record a goodbye video and thank the hockey club, his teammates, his billets and the fans, but it wasn’t long before his emotions overwhelmed him and he couldn’t hold back the tears. Just a few hours later, Luchuk was standing outside the Colts dressing room at the Barrie Molson Centre having finished an impressive Barrie debut with a goal and two assists in a come-from-behind 6-4 win over the Owen Sound Attack.
Reflecting on his whirlwind day – he arrived in Barrie only two hours before game time – Luchuk admits he was still trying to take in all that had just happened.
“It’s been a pretty full day,” said the talented centre, who finished up the Colts pre-Christmas schedule in impressive fashion, recording three goals and five points to help the Central Division-leading Colts (20-10-2-1) sweep all three weekend games. “If you asked me (Wednesday) night what (Thursday) looked like, I would have told you something pretty different,” he added. “There’s not much I can really say. It was a pretty crazy day all around. But I’m really excited to be a Barrie Colt. The guys showed a lot tonight and I’m definitely excited for what the future holds.”
Leaving Windsor isn’t easy for the Kingston native, who was drafted by the Spitfires in the fourth round of the 2013 OHL Priority Selection draft. There’s a heap of friends and memories, and then there’s last May. It seems like only yesterday when Luchuk scored the game winner just 5:07 into the third period of the Memorial Cup final to help the host Spitfires beat the Erie Otters, 4-3, and claim the Canadian Hockey League title.
He had little time to let that all sink in after the trade. It was a drive to Barrie, meet your new teammates and go, go, go.
“That’s the best way to have it, in my opinion, to be thrown right into the fire,” Luchuk said.
Second in OHL scoring this season with 31 goals and 56 points in 33 games, Luchuk now finds himself playing on Barrie’s top line with Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Alexey Lipanov and Andrei Svechnikov, who could go first overall in the upcoming NHL draft.
“They made it really easy for me,” the five-foot-10, 184-pound Luchuk said of the Russians. “I didn’t really know too much about those guys or anyone, really, on the team. Coming in from the west you don’t see Barrie too much, but it became apparent quick how special those two guys are. It’s going to be fun here for sure.”
Colts head coach, Dale Hawerchuk, was certain his newest forward would get a good night sleep that night.
“He probably had a lot of adrenalin, so sometimes that first game you have good juice that way,” said Hawerchuk, whose club kicks off the second half of the season at home against the Sudbury Wolves on Dec. 28.
While Luchuk’s offensive numbers stand out, there’s so much more to the over-age player’s game. He’s a strong two-way player, is among the best in the faceoff circle, and brings a ton of leadership and experience to a young hockey club that is among the top teams in the league.
“He’s a highly regarded player,” said Jason Ford, Colts general manager, who considered Luchuk the top over-age player available. “He does everything well. He kills penalties. He can score. He’s got leadership qualities. He’s shown he can win and he wants to win. If you look over the last three years, he’s been a very durable player. He’s played lots of games and lots of minutes.”
Luchuk is hoping to bring all that to his new team. The former Spitfire captain doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes in Barrie. He just wants to help his new team in any way he can and help them win.
“I like to consider myself not just a scorer,” he said. “I’m a guy that takes complete responsibility for all three zones. Playing defense in the D-zone is something I take more pride in than necessarily the offensive zone. Hopefully that’s something I can bring to these guys.”
The price to bring in Luchuk was a costly one for the Colts. Barrie dealt second-year forward and NHL draft prospect Curtis Douglas, along with second-round picks in 2021 and 2022 and a third-round selection in 2024.
“I hate to give up a player like Douglas, but we feel like the depth of some of the other young guys can allow us to put a player like that in a trade and make sure we get the player, because obviously other teams were interested in Luchuk as well,” said Ford, who also made sure the picks they moved were at least three years down the road.
While Barrie is hoping Luchuk can play a key role in helping them win, they also hope to help the veteran free agent land an NHL contract.
“Hopefully he can come here and have a good second half to his season and help us win and we can help him get that pro contract he wants,” the Barrie general manager added.
Ford points to the success former Colt and current Anaheim Ducks forward, Joseph Blandisi, had in his over-age season in Barrie. An NHL free agent, Blandisi finished third overall in OHL scoring with 52 goals and 112 points and would sign with the New Jersey Devils.
“By all accounts, (Luchuk’s) a great kid,” Ford said. “You look at the way his OHL career has evolved, he’s consistently done better. You see lots of overagers come through here, but some players just flourish when they’re 20 and he’s showing that. We’re hoping he can continue that here.”
Photo courtesy of OHL Images