Local Sports: Queen’s Avery Lajeunesse not afraid to get physical

A year ago Avery Lajeunesse made a commitment to join the RDC hockey Queens next season, a decision that had to bring a smile to the face of head coach Kelly Coulter.

The 17-year-old Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs forward has the reputation of not only possessing the skill to play at the college level but the determination to impress any coach.

“She’s a hard-worker, gritty player who isn’t fun to play against,” said Chiefs head coach Bob Rutz, a former head coach of the Queens. “I’ve known Avery since peewee and she’s been the same her whole life.”

“I’m on the small side at five-foot-four, 125-pounds, but I’ve always liked to play a physical game … I’m not afraid,” she said.

Although her stats this season may not show it — four goals and two assists in 25 games — she has an offensive upside.

“We all struggled a bit as a team scoring, but coming up I always had an offensive side,” said Lajeunesse, who had 13 goals and 13 assists in 25 games in the Midget Elite League in 2016-17 and was named rookie of the year.

Rutz knows she’ll fit in nice with the Queens.

“Like any rookie it will take time to adjust to the league, which is more physical than midget, but she will,” he said.

“She never shies away from physical contact and is always first to the puck.”

It’s that type of play that helped the Chiefs advance to the provincial midget AAA championships this weekend in St. Albert.

The Chiefs, who downed the Edmonton Pandas 2-0 in the best-of-three playoff series, plays St. Albert and Lloydminster today and Calgary Fire Saturday.

The top two teams advance into the final with the other two playing for bronze.

“It will be tough, but something we’re looking forward to,” said Lajeunesse.

Avery got into hockey at the peewee level after playing six years of ringette.

“My brother played hockey and I always wanted to try so I went to a hockey camp with him and fell in love with it,” she said.

“Ringette was good in terms of skating, but it didn’t help my puck handling, but I was still young enough to fit in.”

Avery moved up through the minor hockey ranks, played bantam AAA and spent a year with the Midget Elite Sutter Fund Chiefs, winning the provincial championship. She jumped to the Midget AAA level in the 2017-18 season, scoring five goals and four assists in 25 games.

“I haven’t scored in the league like I used to but it’s a tough league, just about all the girls go on to play college or university hockey in Canada or the States,” she said. “Every game you’re up against a quality team.”

The Chiefs are one of the top defensive teams in the league, something Lajeunesse says they take pride in.

“We know as long as our defence is solid and we keep teams down we’ll be in the game,” she said. “We prevent them from scoring and take advantage of our chances and maybe get a bounce go our way.”

Avery had always wanted to play college hockey and RDC was a perfect fit, considering she plans to get into nursing her second season. She’ll take open studies her first year.

“I decided before Kelly even talked with me I wanted to go to RDC,” she said. “I wanted to stay at home and once he contacted me I took a couple of days and agreed to sign. It felt good.”

The Queens have always had open arms when it comes to local talent.

“They have, which is good,” said Avery. “I know some of the other girls and it helps coming into a team when you know someone.”

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and Alberta Sports Hall of Fame member who can be reached at danrode@shaw.ca

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