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Ewanyk taking advantage of expanded role

Wednesday, December 28th
Ewanyk taking advantage of expanded role

With under ten minutes to go in Allen last Friday, the Steelheads found themselves trailing by a goal and with a critical power play opportunity. The Steelheads managed to convert on a gritty rebound goal in front of the net, tying the game and allowing for an eventual shootout win over the Americans. It’s a scenario that forward Travis Ewanyk may not have been on the ice for in previous years, but as a Steelhead it was Ewanyk on the ice and in front of the net to draw the Steelheads even with is team-leading 12th goal of the season.

Ewanyk, playing his fourth pro season and first in the ECHL, is having the best offensive campaign of his career. His 12 goals this year match his career-high in points for a season, when he totaled 12 points in his 2013-14 rookie campaign in Oklahoma City. With 23 points already this year, he still has 53 games to go.

The difference between AHL and ECHL hockey can account for some of Ewanyk’s dramatic rise in production, but not all of it.

“Honestly it’s been the opportunity I’ve had coming in here. I spoke with (Head Coach Neil Graham) before I came in and we talked about how I wanted to play a larger role than I have in years past,” said Ewanyk, with four goals in his last four games heading into Wednesday night’s contest in Rapid City. “He’s given me an opportunity to play top-six minutes and power play minutes. I really think it’s a part of my game that I’ve always had, but I’ve never really had the opportunity to focus on it.”

Ewanyk had different duties assigned in the AHL with Oklahoma City and last season in Binghamton. He racked up 330 penalty minutes in 203 AHL games prior to this year, and he added another 19 during a one-game call to the Texas Stars earlier this season. While he can still play the rough-and-tumble game, the Steelheads require more of him.

“I played a bottom-six role in the AHL and was more focused on being an energy guy and playing a different role for the hockey club,” said Ewanyk. “Here, I’m being relied on to score more and play with offensive guys. It’s been really good for my confidence.”

Graham brought Ewanyk on board shortly before the start of the regular season, knowing that Ewanyk’s high-energy style could translate to more than just fighting majors.

“We expected him to come in and contribute and be a big part of this team, and that’s what he’s done,” said Graham. “For Travis, it’s important for him to keep being physical and using his energy. When he’s consistently working and consistently physical, it’s no coincidence that those are the nights he picks up a lot of points.”

In addition to being on the ice more and playing with other creative players, Ewanyk’s rise stems from confidence and refined skill work as well. Ewanyk has 18 points in his last 19 games, and that success stems from a different mindset as well as more shifts.

“In the summer I worked a lot on my shot and my puck skills and patience with the puck. It’s not so much that I’m not panicking with the puck this year, but I am looking to make plays rather than just getting the puck and dumping it in,” said Ewanyk. “That comes with the confidence that comes with playing with the puck on your stick more.”

A new opportunity is only as valuable as a player’s ability to take advantage of it. Ewanyk certainly has, tied for second on the team with four power play goals and finding himself hopping over the boards for important face-offs in the most pivotal moments of games.

It’s a responsibility Ewanyk hasn’t shouldered since his days with the Edmonton Oil Kings, when his performance on both sides of the puck made him a third-round NHL Draft pick of the Oilers. The 23 year-old loves every minute of it.

“I haven’t really played in those big moments since juniors, and it’s just fun. After games we win, I’ve really found the enjoyment of playing the game again,” said Ewanyk. “Being counted on to play in the final minutes of games where we’re up a goal or down a goal, or even in overtime, those are situations I’ve never played in before and it’s been a lot of fun.”

With three goals and six points in the Steelheads’ previous series against the Rush, don’t expect Ewanyk’s role to change for Wednesday night in Rapid City.

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