Eagle River’s Lajoie comes of age quickly for Brown Bears

Eagle River’s Lajoie comes of age quickly for Brown Bears

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Brandon Lajoie has joined one club. Now he’s looking to join another.

Lajoie joined the club of Eagle River skaters in the same age range to play for the Brown Bears when he impressed the team enough in late November as an affiliate to earn a full-time spot. The club joined includes current Kenai River players Sutton McDonald, Zach Krajnik and Connor Canterbury, and Brown Bears alumnus Cam McDonald.

Now Lajoie would like to join the club of players from Team Alaska that competed at the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 14U National Championships in Anchorage in the spring of 2016 and have since committed to play college hockey. That number is currently at five and includes Cam McDonald.

Lajoie, who just turned 17 on Oct. 18 and is a junior in high school with three years of junior eligibility after this season, is content with making that first club for now.

“My main goal was making it on a junior team this season,” Lajoie said. “I just want to play hard and keep learning and see where I go from here.”

Lajoie, the son of Kelley and Bart Lajoie of Eagle River, grew up in Anchorage except for when he was in the state of Washington from 4 to 6.

He grew up in the Eagle River hockey scene and became close with the McDonalds, Krajnik and Canterbury.

“We’d skate at the outdoor rink, go to the gym together and hike together,” Lajoie said. “We’d have a lot of fun together but we’d also push each other.”

Lajoie switched to the Anchorage hockey scene when he was 15 to play with Team Alaska at that national tournament. Last season, he stayed in Anchorage to play with the Alaska Oilers 16U AAA team and that’s where he drew interest from Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich.

The 5-foot-11, 175-pound forward was invited to Main Camp this summer and made the All-Star Game. He then spent a couple weeks at the Brown Bears training camp before reporting to the Iowa Wild 18U AAA team, coached by former Bears assistant Nick Sova.

There he had 10 goals and six assists in 26 games.

“He scored a lot of goals down there and we weren’t scoring a lot of goals,” Petrich said. “Nick said he’s junior ready and others said he’s junior ready.

“If a kid from Alaska is ready for this level, we want to bring him home.”

Lajoie’s first game came against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs on Nov. 23 and he scored a goal. He would play in five of Kenai River’s six games in a nine-day stretch against the Ice Dogs and total two goals and an assist.

“I skated my butt off trying to make the team,” Lajoie said.

It worked. Lajoie now has two goals and four assists in 15 games for the Bears.

“At 15 games, four and two is pretty good for a rookie,” Petrich said. “He’s 17 years old. He’s the youngest kid on the team, easily.”

Petrich likes Lajoie’s versatility. He has played on every line, and has seen time on the power-play and penalty-kill units.

What really stands out is Lajoie’s shot.

“He shoots it like an NHLer,” Petrich said.

Lajoie said he is not quite sure how his shot became his calling card. He said he loved shooting when he was young and it’s always been his thing since then.

Petrich said the challenge for Lajoie is now consistency and developing a full game.

“When a young kid is giddy and excited, it’s easier for him to score in his first game,” Petrich said. “When the travel and strenuous schedule kick in, it becomes more of a challenge.”

Lajoie said he is trying to combat this by getting injuries addressed right away and eating a good diet.

“College coaches say, ‘Josh, we send them to you to get them to play a full game,’” Petrich said. “He has the skill and skating, but does he play a complete game?”

Lajoie knows improving on defense is important.

“I’m just getting tips from the veterans and listening to what coach has to say,” Lajoie said.

As the Bears seek to shake a six-game losing streak caused by a scoring slump, Petrich said Lajoie could give the team a major boost if his shot gets hot.

One thing Petrich doesn’t have to worry about is Lajoie’s maturity. Lajoie lives with Jenna and Eric Fabian of Soldotna. Petrich said Lajoie’s mother and billet mother more than keep his academics in line.

Lajoie said his schedule is simple. He practices in the morning, works out, eats lunch, then does four to six hours of homework a day.

He’s just happy to be doing all of this in Alaska again.

“It’s been awesome,” he said. “I can go home on off weeks and my parents can come down and watch the games.”

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