Photo credit: Island Images Photography
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By Nick Greenizan
Oliver Auyeung-Ashton is one of the smaller goaltenders you will see in a BC Hockey League crease this year – he is listed at just 5-foot-9 and 140 pounds – but he is coming up awfully big for his Victoria Grizzlies, and gaining some big-time attention for it in the process.
In a league where older, veteran goaltenders are often the ones among the statistical leaders, the 17-year-old rookie netminder currently leads the BCHL in both save-percentage (.940) and shutouts (five), and is second in goals-against average (2.03) and top-10 in wins (10).
He was named the BCHL’s 1st Star of the Week twice in a row in late November/early December after backstopping the Grizzlies to three shutout victories in a row, and was also recently selected to represent the Coastal Conference at next month’s All-Star Tournament in Penticton, as well as the Top Prospects Game.
He has come a long way from his minor-hockey roots in Coquitlam, where he grew to love the sport watching NHL games on TV and stopping shots in the family garage.
Auyeung-Ashton played his formative years with Coquitlam Minor Hockey Association, first as a skater, before eventually making the move to goaltender midway through his second year in the game.
“Everyone was rotating through, taking turns playing goalie, and I realized I just liked it more, so the next season, I played full-time goalie,” he explained. “I just found that I was better at playing goalie than I was as a player. I thought it was easier to stop the puck than it was to put it in the net.”
His love for the game grew in part, he says, because of his parents.
“My dad really pushed the idea of being a hockey player,” he said. “We’d always be in the garage and he’d be shooting hockey balls at me in net, so he really had a big influence on me. My mom, too. When she was younger, her family couldn’t afford many TV channels, but they did get Hockey Night in Canada, so she grew up really loving hockey and she passed that down to me.”
From his roots in Coquitlam, Auyeung-Ashton found success between the pipes and soon moved on to play with the Vancouver Northeast Chiefs, where last season, he backstopped them to a BC Elite Hockey League U18 title and helped the team advance all the way to the national championship tournament.
That experience helped him when he made the jump to the BCHL, he said. For starters, he realized that to truly be successful, you can’t afford many off days.
“Last season was great,” said Auyeung-Ashton. “We went on a big playoff run and had a great team. It was definitely a big jump to this level, and the biggest difference is that everyone [in the BCHL] can play. Every team has depth and every game, no matter who you face, it’s a battle to win every night.”
“Last year, some nights, we’d have an off game but still end up with two points. You can’t afford off nights at this level. You always have to show up.”
Off the ice, the adjustment to a new city has gone smoothly too. In Victoria, Auyeung-Ashton lives with a billet family that also houses two of his teammates. His mom has made a few trips to Vancouver Island to watch him play already and he also recently had his first opportunity to return to Coquitlam as a visiting player when the Grizzlies played the Express.
“It’s been a really fun experience, and I think I’ve transitioned well,” he said. “My billets have been awesome and the guys on the team, they’ve been really welcoming – it’s like a second family almost.”
The only thing he’s hasn’t quite adjusted too, he admits, is the attention and accolades he’s received lately as a result of his stellar play on the ice.
“There’s been a lot of attention over these last few weeks, and honestly, I don’t even know how to deal with it,” he said. “It’s a lot to handle right now, but it’s obviously nice and I’m excited about [how things are going].”