“Possessing a strong 200-foot game” is an expression commonly used by hockey coaches to describe a forward with a solid presence in the offensive and defensive zones, or the full length of an ice rink.
Young forwards often struggle with this as prolific scorers on midget teams aren’t always flooded with defensive responsibilities. However, Everett Silvertips rookie Jackson Berezowski has not only shown flashes of being a 200-foot player in his first 24 Western Hockey League games, but he already was one at the start of the season, according to Everett head coach Dennis Williams.
That ability has earned Berezowski immediate ice time with the Silvertips this season.
“He’s just your typical workhorse,” Williams said. “I thought he had a really good camp last year when we were here, and to see him this year take those steps is really great. He plays an honest game. He plays a 200-foot game. As a 16-year-old, he’s going to make some mental mistakes and lose some physical battles, but he competes each and every night. He’s not afraid to engage in some physicality and finish his checks as a young player, so it’s encouraging.”
Why is Berezowski ahead of some of his peers in regards to his two-way game? It’s something he’s always done. Growing up in an agricultural community of Yorkton, a city of just about 20,000 people in the plains of Saskatchewan, Berezowski was imbued with a tenacious, tireless brand of hockey.
“I think my previous coaches have instilled that in me, so I’ve had that my whole life,” Berezowski said. “Last year I started to develop that strongly in my game, and it’s helped this year, too.”
The 16-year-old forward has appeared in Everett’s lineup for all but two games this season, and his role has expanded greatly in recent weeks. He’s taken sporadic shifts with the Silvertips’ top-six forward group and compiled five points in his last nine games entering Tuesday.
Berezowski said he revels in the opportunity to play with his veteran teammates.
“It’s big for me,” said Berezowski, who leads all Everett rookies with six points. “Especially being young, I love playing with those older guys because I use it as a learning tool. I just try and learn as much as I can from them, asking questions on the bench and just learning as much as I can for me to grow my game.”
The Silvertips drafted Berezowski in the second round of the 2017 Bantam Draft after a profuse scoring season with the Yorkton Terriers Bantam AA in which he totaled 87 points (41 goals, 46 assists) in 30 games.
He demonstrated some of the same tendencies he’s showcasing with Everett this season when the Silvertips were scouting him years ago, according to Everett general manager Garry Davidson.
“When we saw him as a bantam, he was a guy that showed up every day,” Davidson said. “Offensively he’s a shooter. He likes to shoot the puck, which I think is a real positive thing because we have a lot of guys that think pass first. But he does have a very good two-way game. He works hard and gets to the tough areas even though he’s not really a big guy and he plays much bigger than he is. We’re very pleased with his progress.”
Berezowski earned a contract with the Silvertips following a strong showing at the team’s 2017 training camp.
It was a dream come true for Berezowski, who dreamed of playing in the WHL every since he was young.
“It was one of my priorities coming into training camp was to see if I could get a contract with them,” he said. “It was pretty big when I finally did it.”
Now that he’s settled into the league, he’s tried to take bits and pieces of his older teammates’ games in order to evolve his skill set. Berezowski said he tries to emulate Silvertips captain Connor Dewar because of how hard Dewar works. There are also overt physical similarities between the two as Berezowski is listed at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds and Dewar is billed at 5-10, 175 pounds.
“(Dewar is) a big 200-foot player, so I try and take aspects of his game and put them in mine, too,” Berezowski said. “He plays hard every shift and (plays) a hard-nosed game, and that earns him trust with the coach, so he gets lots of minutes and he can show what he can do.”
Even a player like Dewar paid his dues as a rookie, taking shifts with the checking line before blossoming into the team leader and leading scorer that he is today. Berezowski is hoping he follows a similar path.
Williams believes he’s on the right track.
“He does all those little things out there that are already in his game,” Williams said. “As a first-year player, he’ll just get better and better as he continues to play in the Western Hockey League.
“I think we’ve only seen the top of the iceberg of how good he can be in this league and for the Everett Silvertips.”