It’s hard to imagine a nine-year-old being considered old, but there’s no denying that was the case when Luke House began playing minor hockey.
“I just never really thought about (playing),” said Luke House, now 15 and remarkably the only west coast member of Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador’s entry in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Excellence Challenge in May.
Hockey never grabbed his attention when he was younger, when most kids first get their skates laced up at five or six, but after some gentle prodding by his parents Don and Michelle, he gave it a whirl.
“My parents gave me a little push to try it and I really liked it,” said the Corner Brook native.
He started like any other kid, playing as a regular skater and learning the bounces of the game. But after one year of that, he decided he wanted to don the mask and pads, trying it at first for just one game — a win, if he recalls correctly.
“I think so, yeah,” he laughed.
House, who is now tending goal for the provincial major midget league’s Colemans Western Kings, fell in love with the high-pressure position immediately.
“I like having the spotlight,” he said. “And being able to change the outcome of a game.”
A self-described “big guy with quick feet,” House believes he possesses the mental toughness to excel between the pipes. The fan of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs doesn’t model himself after any one professional goalie, choosing instead to borrow pieces from a number of different puckstoppers.
He’s been trying to make the cut of this particular provincial team for the past two years, but was cut and relegated to alternate status both times. Finally getting selected this year, when the team was announced on Feb. 7, soothed the sting of those past rejections.
“It was kind of like a sigh of relief, I guess,” he said. “I had worked hard over the summer and got better.”
Playing with the Kings was also a huge help, as it gave him the experience at a higher level of the game that subsequently enabled him to stand out during both the spring identification camp last April and as part of the 44-player summer camp. Since then, HNL brass kept an eye on how he and other candidates were performing in the major midget league, with evaluations concluding at the year-end major midget tournament in Lewisporte earlier this month.
“It was a big jump from bantam AAA to midget AAA,” said House of his rookie season with the Kings. “It was difficult, but I’m starting to get used to it.”
That jump was a mere step compared to the calibre of competition he’s likely to see in May in Blainville-Brosand, Que.
Along with the Newfoundland and Labrador team, the tournament will include New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and two teams from Quebec.
“It’s obviously going to be a big difference from what I’m used to here,” he said. “I’m just going to have to do my best.”
Calm and collected in the crease, House admits the part of the experience he’s most anxious about is the Under Armour Combine on April 30, which will feature on- and off-ice testing.
“Yeah, there are nerves for sure about the training combine,” he said.
Tournament games then begin May 1 and conclude on May 4. A detailed schedule will be released at a later date.
He’ll likely share the starting job with Noah Weir of Grand Falls-Windsor, who happens to play for the Central Ice Pak major midget team. It’s looking like a timeshare so far, which House is fine with since the two are “pretty close.”
In fact, his overall ambitions for the showcase event are modest — by both definitions of the word.
“Hopefully I can win a game, I guess ... I just want to play good,” he said of his personal goal in the quest for the QMJHL Gold Cup.
“But I’ll worry about my team game first.”