Justin Lies has inked his first major junior deal, putting him one step closer to elite level hockey.
The 15-year-old from Flin Flon signed a player option agreement with the Vancouver Giants, the same club that nabbed his major junior rights in the third round of last summer’s WHL Bantam Draft.
Lies said scouts from the team had checked in on his performance throughout his first full hockey season away from northern Manitoba.
“They’ve been checking me out throughout the season, watching me, but there wasn’t too much talk about me signing. After one of my games, their scout came up and they just said that’s what they wanted to do. That’s what we wanted to do as well, so we got it done,” he said. “Before, I was just a prospect of the Giants, but now I’m actually a member now that I’ve actually signed. I could play games with them now.”
While Lies could, in theory, suit up for the Giants soon, he is unsure of any plans to bring him into the major junior level this season. He hopes to see action in western Canada’s top junior league at some point later this season.
“It’s a pretty big thing if it happens,” he said.
Call-up or no call-up, Lies will be busy on the ice. The teen will head to Red Deer, Alta. to play for Team Manitoba at the Canada Winter Games next month. That squad is roughly split in half between players from inside and outside Winnipeg.
Although Lies currently goes to school and plays in Winnipeg, he is considered a rural player. That status gives him a slight deficit, having played with none of his new teammates in serious competition, but Lies has faced off against his new buddies before.
“I haven’t played with any of these guys, but I have played against some of them in tryouts and some of the guys on my team were in the league that I played in last year. I knew who most of them were going into the season, but I wasn’t close with them or anything,” he said.
With players spread out throughout the province and tight schedules for each team making mass group practices nearly impossible to coordinate, Lies said the team’s coaching staff has kept players on the right track by supplying information and instructional videos via email.
Throughout the year, Lies has played for the Rink Hockey Academy (RHA) Nationals, based out of Winnipeg and playing in the Elite 15s division of the Canadian Sports School Hockey League (CSSHL) against other hockey hothouses across the west. Heading south has been a major adjustment, but Lies is adapting well, scoring 25 points in 29 games.
“It’s been great. I’ve met a lot of great friends and lot of good people up here. The training and the competition and all that is really good,” he said, while mentioning that the league includes extensive travel for road games.
“We’ve been travelling a lot. We’re going to Edmonton this weekend, then I think we host two weekends in a row. That’s good.”
The RHA team trains hard, much more than Flin Flon or northern Manitoba-based teams that Lies has played on in the past. He said the training, along with learning more regimented play systems, was the biggest difference between RHA and Flin Flon hockey.
“We practice every day; work out every day. That whole side of it is different. With systems in the game, it’s a lot more controlled. It’s not just the one guy skating through everybody. It’s a lot more of a team game,” he said.