Jonathon Brodie – Recorder & Times
One minute Nicholas Hawkins wasn’t on the Brockville Braves training camp roster. The next thing you knew his name appeared on the opening day lineup.
The 20-year-old forward came very close to not wearing a Braves jersey for a sophomore season in the CCHL.
It was in August when Hawkins was with the NAHL’s Corpus Christi IceRays for their training camp instead. Things were going pretty well, said Hawkins, but something just didn’t feel right about being there.
“It just didn’t feel like home,” he said. “Brockville is where home is.”
That’s a pretty big statement from a guy who hasn’t spent the last four hockey seasons living at his home in Colorado.
Brockville has always felt comfortable for Hawkins ever since he came here for that first training camp before the 2017-18 season.
“I really couldn’t stay away,” said Hawkins. “I love Brockville, I love the town, I love the team, and I couldn’t go a day without thinking of the boys here, so I just felt coming back here was the best decision for me in my final year and so far I’m really proud of the decision I made.”
Hawkins isn’t just looking comfortable in Brockville right now. He’s fitting into the Braves lineup like it’s an old worn shoe.
Hawkins has four goals already this season with three of those coming from the power play – which is half the amount of goals Brockville has picked up on the man-advantage this year.
His goals haven’t always been pretty, but they’re typical junior hockey goals. They’ve been tipins and sweeping up rebounds on the doorstep of the crease. They’re nothing fancy, but they get the job done and take a certain toughness to get them with opposing goalies and defenders pounding away at your back.
“I’m just trying to come in every game and do what I do best and that’s work hard, get to the net, and be the first guy on the forecheck,” said Hawkins. “Whatever success comes with that, I’ll take it. I like my role. I like to work hard, I like to get in and be the first to the puck and that’s just how it’s going to go.”
The fact Hawkins knows his role on the team is important.
There are countless players in the CCHL that should play more like Hawkins right now, but try to showoff the flashier parts of their game with slick stick handling or an extra pass and then end up creating more turnovers than goalscoring chances.
Hawkins is comfortable with the kind of player he needs to be and his awareness of it will help him in the long run as his junior hockey career will come to an end after this season. He knows that a certain grit to his game will be his meal ticket to the next level and he’s making sure that it’s his breadand-butter.
“I think I can chip in on the offensive end, but as I go into college eventually I know that’s going to be my role and that’s what is going to have to be what I do now,” said Hawkins.
Last year Hawkins started in a top-six role before dropping in the depth chart later in the season. Players that were added throughout the season like veterans Michael McArthur and Tyson Kirkby jumped over him. The skill of Eric Holland and Jordi Jefferson was too high to put down.
Hawkins is a top-six forward this season and playing on the top power-play unit. He won’t be going anywhere in the depth chart if he continues to play the way he is.
It would have been easy for Hawkins to sulk and move on from the Braves after his ice time diminished last year, but it’s telling of the type of player he is that he used the 2017-18 season as a chance to learn from people higher than him in the depth chart and figure out what he needs to do to be successful in coach Jesse Winchester’s system.
“The first half of the (2017-18) year I was more relied upon and then the second half I was taking a step back and letting the 1997 (born players) and the older 20-year-olds take the reins,” said Hawkins, scoring 11 goals and 25 assists in his rookie season with the Braves. “Being able to watch them play and watch the way they lead, I took that and learned from it over the summer and use what I learned from those guys. I just want to be a leader like that this year for the younger guys.”
Original Story at Recorder.ca