SYLVAN LAKE — If this hockey thing doesn’t pan out for Mark Louis, he could be a paid ambassador for Canadian university hockey.
The Ponoka native and former Red Deer Rebels defenceman is a huge proponent of the university game, insisting that playing at that level paved the way to a professional career that is now entering its fourth year.
“Going to university (St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish, N.S.) was the best thing ever for my career,” he said Wednesday, after suiting up with the Arizona Coyotes in the Kraft Hockeyville NHL preseason game played in front of 1,000 fans at the Sylvan Lake Multiplex.
“I found that it addressed a lot of things that I didn’t have in junior. I wanted to play pro after junior but the opportunities weren’t there. I always knew I wanted to play pro and that was still my intention while I was there. I just wanted to improve every year and sure enough I just kept getting better and when the (pro) opportunity came around I took advantage of it.
“I didn’t get to finish school but I definitely took a lot out of there . . . a lot of experience. The calibre of hockey is completely under-rated. There’s a lot of very good players who get tied up in their studies and it’s such a tough go in your life trying to decide if you’re still going to pursue hockey or move on to another career. There’s a lot of good players at that level that if they chose to go pro they easily could.”
Louis played four seasons in the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings before being traded to Red Deer two weeks into the 2007-08 campaign. He added size — he currently checks in at six-foot-four and 230 pounds — a significant physical presence and leadership to a weak Red Deer team.
He enrolled at St. Francis Xavier in the fall of 2008 and patrolled the X-Men blueline for four years before earning a tryout with the Portland Pirates, the AHL affiliate of the Coyotes.
Louis appeared in 23 games with the Pirates following the conclusion of his final university season and was then summoned to the Coyotes — albeit as a practice player — while the team was on their impressive 2012 playoff run that ended with a loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL Western Conference final.
“I was fortunate enough to be called up to skate with the Coyotes ‘Black Aces’ during the playoffs, so that was a pretty good experience and then I signed shortly after that,” he said.
Louis has now played two full seasons in Portland and feels that he’s close to changing addresses this fall as a member of the Coyotes.
“Absolutely, that’s my goal this year,” he said.
“Ever since I was a little kid I’ve wanted to play in the NHL and I feel that it’s right there for me. I feel I’m ready, I just have to take advantage of the opportunity I’m given.”
On Wednesday, Louis was a Coyote for a day of celebration in Sylvan Lake.
“I think it’s cool to be back closer to home, as close as I’m going to get as a pro,” said Louis. “It was nice to see the community come together and have the game sold out. It was a pretty special night.”