Photo credit: Tami Quan
Tyson Jugnauth tied for fourth in scoring among all BCHL defencemen in 2020-21 and did so while beginning the season at just 16-years-old.
It was an impressive feat for the West Kelowna Warriors freshman, but according to his coach, he may have being holding back.
“He got up to first place in defensive scoring there in the pod season, then we challenged him to really focus on the defensive side of the puck,” said Warriors bench boss Simon Ferguson. “After that, we were able to play him in any situation. He didn’t push as hard on the offensive side as he normally would, because we were focusing so hard on the defensive side, which slowed him down a little bit. He has those natural instincts on offence, but I thought he did a great job of stepping up and learning how to be an excellent defender as well.”
When all was said and done, the now 17-year-old Jugnauth wrapped up his rookie campaign in the BCHL with four goals and 13 assists for 17 points in 20 games, finishing seven points clear of the next highest-scoring defender on his team.
For Jugnauth, it was a fairly smooth transition, which is something he attributes to his experience the year prior in the 2019-20 season.
“It’s a pretty big jump,” said Jugnauth. “Obviously it’s a lot faster with more skill. I think I managed it pretty well, going from Major Midget to the BCHL. I also got into a few games in [2019-20] as a 15-year-old and that definitely made the transition easier.”
One other aspect that made things a bit easier on him was familiarity with his situation – familiarity with his coach, the city and a certain teammate.
Jugnauth is a Kelowna resident and, on top of that, he got to play alongside his cousin Damon last year, which was the first time they had ever gotten the chance to suit up for the same team.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I get to live at home and see my family every day. It’s great having [Damon] around. He’s a great guy and a really good player. It’s a really cool experience and something I’ll never forget.”
Jugnauth’s relationship with his coach comes from his days with the Okanagan Rockets U18 program where Ferguson coached him until he took over the Warriors coaching duties midway through the 2019-20 season.
Just because he knew the type of player he was dealing with, does not mean that Jugnauth walked right in and was handed top-pairing ice time. Ferguson recognizes the level of talent that his young defenceman possesses and just did his best to put him in the best position to succeed.
“I think as a coach, if you’re treating every player the same, you’re not going to have a lot of success,” said Ferguson. “You have 20 guys, 20 individuals and 20 different personalities. You have to approach each situation differently in their development process and the way you coach them. Tyson is no different from that. With your younger players who have a lot of talent, you have to expect bumps in the road. You have to expect that mistakes are going to be made. As long as there are corrections being made, you have to trust them and give them the ice time they need to continue to develop.”
By all accounts, Jugnauth’s development is on the right path. Last year, he was invited to Team Canada’s U17 virtual camp after the tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19. That same year, he also announced his commitment to the University of Wisconsin, one of the top schools in NCAA Division I hockey.
“Ever since I started talking to schools, it was always Wisconsin that I was most keen about,” said Jugnauth. “When they offered me, it didn’t take me long to say yes because I knew, out of every place, that’s the school that I wanted to go to. Their coaches are just unbelievable. They just produce NHL-calibre players.”
“I’m really excited. Right now, I’m focused on the Warriors and helping them win some games and hopefully go far, but I’m really excited to be going there in the future.”
Ferguson understands the potential his player has, but he knows that things don’t come easy just because someone has a lot of talent. Just like everyone else, his work ethic and determination is what will determine how far he goes in the end.
“The road is open for him,” said Ferguson. “It’s going to depend on how hard he wants to work and how dedicated he is. He could potentially have the ability to follow players like [Dante] Fabbro, Kent Johnson and the likes of those guys who have done it in the past in this league. If he pushes himself and really keys in on certain areas of his game, he’s going to be a dynamic player to watch in the future.”
At least for now, that future is with the West Kelowna Warriors. Beyond that, it will be the University of Wisconsin. After that, the possibilities are endless.