Everything is riding on this one season for Jayson Argue.
The Nanaimo Clippers starting goalie is back for his second and final season with the B.C. Junior Hockey League club, after an uneven first campaign.
Last year he entered as the Clippers big off-season acquisition from his hometown Swan Valley Stampeders of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, where he was named MVP and top goalie, and was a finalist for the Canadian Junior Hockey League player of the year.
But things didn't quite go his way early. There was a major adjustment period, to the league and being on his own for the first time.
But in the second half of the season he found his game and eventually took back over starting duties from deadline acquisition Derek Dun in time for the playoffs.
The Clippers are banking on the second-half Argue is going to be the Argue they get all season this year.
It's his final year of junior A eligibility and without a scholarship lined up, he's banking on it too.
"I realize this is my last kick; and me not having a scholarship yet I'm going to do anything I can to get a scholarship," said Argue.
"I'm hoping to see what best comes my way and as long as I hold up my end of the play, on he ice, I think off the ice will come."
Last year turned into a season of growth for the six-foot, 172-pound Argue.
He was half a continent away from and trying to find his groove against higher competition than what he had faced back home.
It wasn't always easy, and early on he even got out played by rookie backup Jarrod Schamerhorn as they split duties.
After Christmas, the Clippers traded for Dun from the Cowichan Valley Capitals, and the BCHL veteran pushed Argue to a new level. It gave him someone to learn from and really compete with for time.
By the end of the regular season Argue was looking more and more like the goalie they thought they were getting when they sent Mike Sones and Brett Hartskamp east.
Argue finished the campaign with a 20-17-0 record with four shutouts, a 2.98 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.
In four playoff games, he found another level, finishing with a 2-2 mark, a 2.50 GAA and a .919 save percentage. He was mostly solidin the Western Canada Cup, posting a 2-2 record 3.02 GAA and a .918 save percentage.
This summer he continued the maturation process. Instead of moving home, he moved to Thompson, Man., where he worked fulltime and then hit the gym for three hours a day after work.
So far it appears to be paying off.
During the BCHL Showcase this past weekend, he stole two games for the Clippers, a 6-5 win over the West Kelowna Warriors in which they were outshot 48-16 and he was named player of the game, and a 3-1 win over the Prince George Spruce Kings as he made 30 saves and was named first star.
"I feel strong, I feel I've had the best start through training camp and exhibition that I've ever had in junior," said Argue.
Head coach and general manager Mike Vandekamp is taking a wait-and-see approach with his starting goalie. He got off to a terrific start last year at the showcase, but then struggled until Christmas.
Vandekamp will be looking to 17-year-old rookie Liam McLeod. He was cut from the Kamloops Blazers' Western Hockey League camp last week and quickly supplanted Connor Lacouvee who was traded to the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League for future considerations.
"If Jayson leaves room for starts from other people. .. then Liam is going to have an opportunity to take those starts," said Vandekamp. "We're on no fixed schedule or routine with the goalies. "Were also in a development level of hockey and everyone has to have the opportunity to play."
Right now the Kamloops native is doing his best to acclimatize himself to the Clippers and Nanaimo, and so far is impressed with what he has seen. He is already familiar with the BCHL, having played 14 games with the Prince George Spruce Kings last year.
The 17-year-old had a strong camp with the Blazers and was one of their late cuts, but he says he's already put that behind him.
"I think everything happens for a reason, I think it's a sign hat I wasn't supposed to go that route, I'm now going to go get an NCAA scholarship," said the five-foot-10, 185-pound McLeod, who is a bit of a battler in net like Argue. "I thin it's a good thing and it's going to push me harder."
The Clippers are in Port Alberni on Friday in their only game of the week to play the Alberni Valley Bulldogs at 7 p.m. Vandekamp is hoping that can build off their strong start.
"We still have a lot of structure work that we need to do within our game," he said. "We showed a great attitude this weekend. He first game was pretty wide open and sloppy, but we corrected a lot of things before the second game. I think we showed a willingness to focus, to learn and get better."
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