June 06, 2014
The way Alex Schoenborn grew into his role was a major reason the Portland Winterhawks were able to stay near the pinnacle of the Western Hockey League.
The one big yawning void on Portland's roster after its 2013 championship season was the absence of veterans to staff a 'grind line' that could wear down defenders. Necessity being the mother of invention, Winterhawks coach-GM Mike Johnston instead filled that niche with an all-American line of three NHl draft prospects, with the 18-year-old Schoenborn working in tandem with 17-year-olds Dominic Turgeon and Keegan Iverson. The trio helped the 'Hawks reach a fourth consecutive WHL final before losing Game 7 to Edmonton, the eventual Memorial Cup champion.
Schoenborn, coming off his first full major junior season, is still raw but fills enriched by that experience.
"Everybody says 'third line' but I don't think we looked at ourselves as a third line," says the 6-foot-½, 196-pound wing who is NHL Central Scouting Service's No. 78-ranked North American skater. "Our coach Mike Johnston trusted us to play against any line. It felt good to earn his trust. We felt like we had crucial roles on the team and it gave us a big confidence boost."
Growing up in Minot, N.D., Schoenborn was bent on pursuing NCAA Division I hockey, like most puck-chasers in the upper midwest. As a 16-year-old, he moved to Omaha to play under-18 hockey, where he was spotted by the Winterhawks and placed on their reserve list. He signed late in 2011-12.
"I saw how good the coaching staff was and the fanbase it had, and I decided that was where I wanted to go," he says.
"When I went to Omaha to play AAA, I had no idea what the WHL was."
Schoenborn got into 20 Winterhawks games as a 17-year-old rookie on a stacked team in '12-13. He was durable this season, playing in all 72 games despite his physical style and tallying 18 goals and 36 points. That being said, Schoenborn says his agility and mobility has to improve in order for him to become a bona fide prosect.
"I plan to work on leg strength a lot this summer in order to improve my skating," says Schoenborn, who was a running back on the football field before giving himself over to hockey. "I also need to work on the skill part of the game. Shooting a lot of pucks, stickhandling. I can bring that way up."
1. How do you describe your game for people who haven't seen you play?
"Power forward — drive the puck wide, shoot, skate, do all the stuff down low, work hard down low."
2. When you're young, you have favourite players, but as you grow up you probably hear "you play like this guy" or "you should watch so-and-so." How do you model your game after?
"I try to play like Scott Hartnell [of the Philadelphia Flyers]."
3. What was your 'welcome to the WHL' moment?
"I got into a fight in my fifth game in [with Moose Jaw's Travis Brown] and that kind of opened my eyes a bit. I did well for my first fight in the Dub. That kind of got me excited about the league."
4. Aside from your parents, who has had the greatest influence in helping you reach this point?
"Our director for hockey in Minot, Jarrod Olsen. He's definitely been behind me my whole career. He's helped me a lot on and off the ice, just with always getting me ready for the next level."
5. Where is your favourite road rink in the WHL?
"The one I like the most would probably be Calgary. I thought it was really fun to play there. It was really nice."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.