Curtis Lazar won’t turn 20 until Feb. 2, 2015, but he already owns a hockey résumé that any player, regardless of age, would be happy to lay claim to.
Canada Winter Games? Check. Lazar won gold with B.C. at the 2011 Games in Halifax, N.S., and led the tournament in scoring with a ridiculous 12 goals and 17 points in six games.
World Under-17 Hockey Challenge? Check. Lazar captained Pacific at the 2012 tournament in Windsor, Ont., just missing out on a semifinal berth in a preliminary round group that included the eventual gold and silver medallists.
Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team? Check. Lazar helped Canada win gold at the 2012 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament.
Canada’s National Junior Team? Check. Lazar represented Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Malmö, Sweden.
WHL championship? Check. Lazar won the league title with the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2012 and 2014.
Memorial Cup championship? Check. Lazar reached the pinnacle of Canadian Major Junior hockey this spring with the Oil Kings.
NHL Entry Draft? Check. Lazar was a first-round selection, 17th overall, by the Ottawa Senators in 2013.
So, yeah … he’s good.
But Lazar’s success hasn’t come without sacrifice; he has built himself a reputation of being a hard-working player and a true leader, who’s constantly focused on winning and achieving his goals by bringing out the best in him and his teammates.
Just ask Nic Petan, who has seen Lazar’s growth from both sides of the puck; the Delta, B.C., native was teammates with Lazar at the Canada Winter Games and in the Hockey Canada Program of Excellence as the U17, U18 and U20 levels, and Petan’s Portland Winterhawks have faced Lazar’s Oil Kings in the last three WHL championship series.
“He’s a true heart and soul guy,” Petan says. “He brings the best of both worlds; sometimes he’s quiet, but he’s also a pretty big leader on this team, so he’ll chip in what he has to say when needed. All in all he’s a good guy who’s pretty focused and quiet, he just smiles a lot.”
It’s not surprising; Lazar has had plenty to smile about in the last four years, particularly in this season’s run to the Memorial Cup title, the first for the Alberta capital since 1966.
“What a year,” Lazar says. “I don’t think anyone expected us to have the season that we did but we had the team, we played for each other. You know, it’s all about character. Hockey Canada is trying to implement something like that here [at summer camp]. It’s something we had plenty of in our locker room, but to come out on top, it’s a pretty surreal feeling.”
Edmonton’s trip to the Memorial Cup was its second in three years, and Lazar relished a more prominent role on the 2013-14 edition of the Oil Kings.
“Both runs were different. The first year, as a 16-year-old, I didn’t really know what to expect. I was a little wide-eyed in that situation” admits Lazar. “Whereas this time around I was more of a go-to-guy and I really seized that opportunity. We sometimes made it hard on ourselves as a group, but we found a way to win.”
Lazar’s success in recent years, both with the Oil Kings and in the Program of Excellence, earned him a spot on Canada’s National Junior Team roster for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.
And while a fourth-place finish was well below the team’s expectations, Lazar turned in one of the stand-out individual performances, averaging a point per game to finish third in Team Canada scoring.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but our fan support in Sweden was incredible,” he says. “Unfortunately we weren’t able to get the job done, but it was a good learning curve for myself and it you shows how you have to come together quickly as a team.”
With a new season come new opportunities for Lazar, including an increased role with the Oil Kings as they try to become the first team since the Windsor Spitfires in 2009 and 2010 to repeat as national champions.
And if he gets yet another chance to wear red and white at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship?
“This time around it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Lazar says. “We’re on Canadian soil, and it’s the 100th anniversary of Hockey Canada. The World Juniors is such a marquee event and I’ve been honoured to be a part of it.
“You can already see that it’s getting hyped pretty much, and deservingly so,” he says. “It’s a great event and I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be like in Toronto and Montreal. It’ll be special.”