Physical size helps in hockey, but many of the skills it requires — acceleration, balance, a low centre of gravity — can be daunting for bigger people. That's why, in a sense, Sudbury, Ont., peewee hockey player Ethan Lavallee, who at 12 years old is already a towering 6-foot-5 and 192 pounds, is actually an underdog. He's attempting to make it in a sport despite being overly blessed by genetics.
Size is no predictor of NHL success. Lavallee, whom the Toronto Star reports is already three inches taller than his father, plays for the Nickel City Sons peewee AAA team. Being more than a foot taller than most of his adolescent puck-chasing peers makes Ethan a target of opponents and fans.
From Kerry Gillespie:
Given his advantages, it's easy to wonder whether Lavallee will, in a few years, be touted as the next great thing in hockey.
Right now, he's just a bundle of long-limbed potential. With his enormous stride, he's always been fast and could find the back of the net, but he's becoming an adept playmaker, too, says his coach, Dan Giroux. If he continues to develop his game, Giroux says, it won't be long before junior teams start taking a look at this "unique player."
First come the questions — "Is he really 12 years old?" — then, the problems. "He becomes a target," says Giroux. "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. Any time he runs into a child they think he's trying to kill them." (Toronto Star)
Lavallee also has to be triple careful to avoid checks to the head.
With increasing awareness about the dangers of concussions, any contact with a head leads to a two-minute spell in the penalty box. It's four minutes if it's deliberate.
"Sometimes I'll hit, but whenever I hit I make sure I'm down low and never shoulder to head," says Lavallee. And while the referees are watching Lavallee like a hawk, he's watching out for the other players. "There are people gunning for me on the other teams," he says.
It's not just the players. Fans start shouting "head shot" and "goon, kick him out" at the drop of the puck and, if he ever falls, the other team's fans "cheer like they just won the game," says coach Giroux.
Anyone who's been around a hockey rink probably knows better than to expect people will remember there is a boy under that helmet and in that man-sized body. People sometimes have trouble remembering that with 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds at the junior hockey level. Meantime, one wonders how much more Ethan Lavallee will grow; he already has size-14 feet, which might indicate he's close to his full height.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (video: Steve Russell, Toronto Star).