Learning whether it’s on the ice or off the ice.
That’s the focus for Moose Jaw’s Reece Newkirk, who’s in his first Western Hockey League season with the Portland Winterhawks.
Newkirk cracked the Winterhawks’ loaded forward group as a 16-year-old and has been enjoying his first month at the major junior level, which included a showdown with his hometown Moose Jaw Warriors on Tuesday.
“I’ve been loving every minute of it here,” said Newkirk on Tuesday. “It’s a big change coming from small Moose Jaw all the way to Portland, the first week was eye-opening in the big city, but it’s turning out great and I love it here.”
After leading the Moose Jaw Generals in scoring as a 15-year-old last season, Newkirk has appeared in five of the first 12 games for the Winterhawks, who sit first in the U.S. Division with a 9-3-0-0 record and have been ranked each week this season in the CHL Top-10.
Playing on such a talented roster, Newkirk knows that he needs to make the most of every opportunity that comes his way.
“I just think of it as if I’m not playing, I’ve got to find a way to get better, so I just watch a couple of guys off the team to see what they do during the games and then come in during the next practice and give it all I’ve got,” said Newkirk, who added that he’s trying to soak in everything he can from NHL first round picks Cody Glass and Kieffer Bellows, as well as Winnipeg Jets pick Skyler McKenzie.
Newkirk has one assist through five games this season. He’s generated seven shots on goal and has won 50-percent of his face-off attempts at 11-for-22.
The speed of the game is always the biggest adjustment for rookies in the WHL and Newkirk said that it’s been no different for him this season.
“As soon I came here I could tell it was a lot faster than in midget, so as soon as I got a taste of that speed and practiced at that speed, it really helped me adjust,” said Newkirk.
The Winterhawks have one of the top coaches in the WHL with Mike Johnston returning to the team last season. Newkirk said he’s enjoyed learning from him so far.
“Obviously he expects everything from you every night, which you come in and want to do, but it’s awesome, you learn so much every day, every practice and every game,” said Newkirk.
Newkirk and the Winterhawks return to the ice on Sunday to host the Everett Silvertips.