Hopeful Area Skaters Hit Hockey Trail to Canadian College

Times Staff Writer

When Mike Lyons of La Puente and Richard Auger of Villa Park climb into Lyons' new Toyota 4x4 pickup next week, the two 18-year-olds will head for another time zone and a new dimension in their lives.

The 2,000-mile journey to Camrose, Canada, will take them across an international frontier into a land where miles become kilometers, heat waves turn into cold snaps, palm trees become pines, and the closest thing to surfing is whitewater canoeing.

They will also brave the adjustment from high school to college, life away from parents and friends for the first time and the challenge of developing new relationships among peers who say "Eh?" and "aboot" and are ready to guard their turf.

Their Holy Grail? The ice hockey team at Camrose Lutheran College, winner of nine Canadian college championships in 13 years and host of the Viking Cup International Tournament.

If they succeed in their fight for ice time, they will not only play alongide polished Canadians but against tournament skaters from many foreign countries--including the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.

Not that they haven't done some polishing in Southern California. Both have been playing hockey since the age of 7--Lyons as a forward, Auger mostly in goal.

At the end of the 1988-89 season Lyons was named Player of the Year in the Midget bracket (age 17 and under) for both the Southern California Amateur Hockey Assn. and Tier II, a Southland all-star team.

He ended with a combined total of 134 points (46 goals, 88 assists), thought to be a record, scoring two goals in 17 seconds against Alaska in the Tier II regionals. As a Bantam (15 and under) three years ago with a Tier I (all-state) team he scored four goals and one assist in the regionals--once more against Alaska.

Auger comes from a hockey family, with a father who once played for a junior team in Montreal and older brothers--even a sister--who still play street hockey. He started as a forward but at age 10 was asked to fill in at goal, got a shutout and has worn the big pads ever since.

Asking him about achievements gets a noncommittal answer, but his father said, "Even if he won a million dollars he wouldn't tell anybody. He's got about 50 trophies at home." He has been a team MVP several times, his father said, on both the Bantam and Midget levels, and at a hockey camp in British Columbia two years ago was named the best of 40 goaltenders participating.

The two youths went to Canada again last year with the Junior Kings, a Tier II Midget team, to play a series of games in the Vancouver area. Auger's father said he went to a bank with Lyons' father to get Canadian money and they were asked about their visit.

"When we told them we were from California and our sons were opening against Langley, they just laughed," he said. "Two thousand people showed up to see the 'massacre,' but we beat them, 4-2."

That was a paid-attendance sellout, and not the only embarrassment for the Canadians, as the Kings went on to a 5-5 tie with Trinity Western University, lost to Aldergrove, 5-4, and then trimmed the North Shore Winter Club, 3-2. North Shore's director said it was the first time in memory his team had lost to Californians.

Lyons' father said it was Dwayne Lowdermilk, then Trinity's coach, who began touting the two Californians, and his interest helped them draw an invitation to an elite hockey camp at Montreal in July. When he first described their talents, however, to Jean Pronovost of McGill University, a former pro slated to teach at the camp, the response was, "Not California players!"

Lowdermilk insisted, Lyons said, describing his son as "one of the smartest hockey players he'd ever seen. Not too many players his size can get knocked down, buried and get up and put the puck into the net."

Pronovost, who once played in the National Hockey League, relented, to the extent that he helped Lowdermilk make a case for the two Californians at Camrose, intimating that a year of seasoning there might qualify them to play for McGill. Camrose competes in the Canadian Colleges Athletic Assn., a level of play just below that of McGill's circuit, the Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union, which includes the country's bigger schools.

Bill Luke, coach at Camrose, said there is a pretty good chance both youths will make his team, since this is a rebuilding year and Lowdermilk's appraisal impressed him.

"He's an excellent judge of hockey players," Luke said, "their skills as well as their personality and desire to succeed. Lyons and Auger seem to have a real interest in education as well as hockey."

If they make it, they will be the first Californians to play for Camrose.

"Lyons may have it easier than Auger," Luke said. "We have only six returning veterans up front and will carry a squad of 26. Auger will be bucking a fair number of young candidates for goalie, plus one veteran. We carry three in the nets.

"It mostly depends on the investment they plan to make. If they're going for a degree here, the possibilities are wide open.

"We play without a center line so our style is freer, faster, with very intense forechecking and more pressure on defense and the goalie. They'll have to get used to it."

Lyons admitted he was a little nervous about leaving home and the challenge up north. "I need to get bigger," he said. "I've been lifting weights." Currently tipping the scales at 155 and measuring 5-11, he is shooting for 185 or 190 pounds.

"You need size because of the intimidation factor," he said. "A big guy can psyche you out in the corners."

Auger too is lifting weights, but not because a goalie needs bulk. "You can always be in better shape," he said. "Speed is more important in goal than size." He weighs 170, at a compact 5-10, and is running to improve endurance.

Auger is looking forward to the change in scenery, including snow. "That will be a first for me," he said. "It's going to be fun."

All they'll need is snow tires for jaunts 50 miles--er, 80 kilometers--northwest to Edmonton, to roam the world's largest shopping mall (20 movie theaters, world's largest largest indoor amusement park), or northeast to Vegreville to gawk at the world's largest Easter egg. When Lyons is as confident with the stick shift as he is with a hockey stick, they could even tackle Drumheller, 160 kilometers south and home of the world's foremost dinosaur museum.

But the Mounties will get them if they don't listen up: Those speed-limit signs reading "100" mean kilometers; try 62.5 if that speedometer is just calibrated U.S.

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