DI defenseman Lugowski will bring competitive drive, shut-down style to ice
Owen Lugowski grew up skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling in the mountains around Okotoks, a suburb of Calgary, Alberta, where hockey is still king of all winter sports.
“I played baseball, volleyball, track & field and anything I had time for, but I’ve always loved hockey more than any of the other ones,” said Lugowski, the first of two defenseman recruits to commit to join the Flames’ ACHA Division I men’s hockey team this fall from this week’s Liberty Hockey Select Camp at the LaHaye Ice Center. “I don’t like to lose.”
On the ice, he was coached by his father, who also worked with graduate goalie Hunter Virostek’s dad, coaching Hunter and Lugowski’s older brother on the same Foothills (Alberta) Bisons U15 AA team 10 years ago.
“Growing up, when I was in minor hockey, my dad was my coach,” Lugowski said. “I learned a lot from him. He never played hockey, but he’s kind of a student of the game. He loves hockey and his work ethic that he’s taught me has kind of helped me throughout the years. It is not about being the most skilled player, but working harder than all of the other guys, that’s really helped me to get to the next level.”
Besides Flames DI Head Coach Kirk Handy, Associate Head Coach Jeff Boettger and ACHA DII men’s hockey Head Coach Ben Hughes were involved in the recruiting process for Lugowski, who was making his third trip to Liberty after participating in the past two summers’ prospect camps.
“I’ve been keeping in touch with the coaches throughout my Juniors seasons, so I have just built a relationship throughout those years,” Lugowski said. “The biggest thing for me is the Christian environment at Liberty. You don’t get that anywhere else really, while playing at a really high level.”
He plans to pursue his B.S. in Business Administration: Entrepreneurship and will be joined by his younger brother, Caleb, who will also be studying in the School of Business.
“He’ll be 18 and I’ll be 21 and we’ll both be freshman,” Lugowski said, noting that he and his two brothers also have three older sisters.
He may follow his father’s footsteps and help run his family’s business after graduating, or pursue another business venture if he does not continue his hockey career.
“I’m going to stay open-minded about my career path and see what comes,” Lugowski said. “If there’s an opportunity (to play professionally), that’s definitely something I’d be interested in. We’ll see how the next four years go and see what (offers) there are out there. I know there’s lots of pro leagues in North America and Europe as well.”
For the past two seasons, Lugowski played for the Winkler Flyers in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League after playing for the Battlefords North Stars in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and the Airdrie CFR Bisons U18 AAA team in the Alberta Midget Hockey League.
“I have played on some pretty good teams the last couple years in Junior hockey and U-18 and we have been having more success,” Lugowski said, noting that he anticipates the level of play in the ACHA to be higher. “From what I’ve seen, it would be probably a little better because the guys are a lot older and bigger and stronger.”
He believes he will make a smooth transition to the college game as he has raised his skill level thrived under pressure in the Juniors ranks.
“I’m definitely more of a defensive D-man,” Lugowski said. “I like to be physical and I like to block shots. I had a big penalty-killing role throughout my Juniors years, so that’s kind of more my style of play, making that good first pass and being a shut-down D-man.”
After watching them play in the semifinal overtime loss to eventual national champion Minot State, Lugowski believes the Flames have what it takes to return to the ACHA Division I National Championships Final Four for the third time in four seasons next March.
“I haven’t won a championship in hockey before, so that’s something that I definitely want to do,” Lugowski said. “I’m sure everybody here wants to as well. It should be pretty competitive up and down the lineup (and) it seems like they’re definitely right there and could go either way in any year. Maybe in one of the four years I’m here, we’ll win one, or two, or four.”
He served on the leadership corps for the Winkler Flyers and throughout his midget career as well.
“I definitely want to be a guy off the ice who’s helping to set an example for the team as well and helping guys to grow in their faith as well as mine,” Lugowski said. “On the ice, I know what kind of role I play and I’m not trying to be someone that I’m not. I think (coaches) respect that, too, when guys say you’re this type of player, then you go on the ice and show that and do it to the best of your ability. That’s a big key.”
He plans to continue to work on his game and building up his 6-foot, 3-inch, 185-pound frame over the summer months.
“We have ice all year round, and I’m usually playing hockey in the summer as well and training and working,” Lugowski said. “I have a program back in Calgary where I train with a couple of other guys, one who plays out in Germany and a couple others who play college hockey in the Western League, so we all … push each other a lot and we all have that mindset of getting to the next level.”
He realizes that though the Flames graduated head captain Colin Baird and fellow defenseman Tom Nagle, he will have to battle for playing time in his freshman season.
“Like the coaches have said, nobody’s guaranteed anything for the lineup, so I just want to work hard this summer and give it my best shot, to come in the fall and be ready to be one of those guys to step into the role,” Lugowski said.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer