From a distance, Ethan Lavallee could easily pass as an NHL defenseman. At nearly 6-foot-6 (he's officially listed at 6-foot-5 1/2) and 192 pounds, he would weigh in on the lighter side of a professional hockey backliner, but he would hardly be out of place in a team photoshoot.
Yet Lavallee isn't an NHL player. In fact, he's not even a college player … or a high school player. Rather, Lavallee is the biggest 12-year-old hockey player you or anyone else has ever seen. A native of Sudbury, Ontario, about five hours from Toronto, Lavallee plays for AAA Peewee Nickel City Sons, who stand third in the competitive Ontario Peewee league.
As reported in a terrific feature in the Toronto Star, Lavallee is the top scorer for the Nickel City Sons, which may not come as a surprise given the fact that he's a full foot taller than most other kids on the ice. What is surprising is that while players his size are almost always defenders by trade, Lavallee has insisted on becoming a forward.
As one might expect, Lavallee is expected to be a physical presence on the ice as well. That presents a rather unique problem, since any hits to the head in the minimal contact Ontario league draw a mandatory two-minute penalty.
That's a much bigger problem for Lavallee, since his shoulder is at most other players' head level.
"Sometimes I'll hit, but whenever I hit I make sure I'm down low and never shoulder to head," Lavallee told the Star. "There are people gunning for me on the other teams."
The concern about other players "gunning" for Lavallee has been reinforced by his coach, Dan Giroux.
"Is he really 12 years old? He becomes a target," Giroux told the Star. "Being that big, a lot of kids want to say they knocked him down. He takes a lot of abuse from the fans and even other coaches. Anytime he runs into a child they think he's trying to kill them."
For now, Lavallee and his size 14 feet are still a "bundle of long-limbed potential," as the Star's Kerry Gillespie put it. In the meantime, Lavallee and his parents will keep hoping for the exact opposite of Tom Hanks' character in the movie Big: They just want Ethan to stop growing before he's forced into becoming a basketball player.
"Constantly growing really doesn't help," Lavallee told the Star. "I get used to skating and then I grow one-and-a-half inches in one month and I kind of lose the feel for it."
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