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Dawson Pasternak (15) with Team Manitoba at the Canada Games. Photo by Jenise Powers/Canada Games

By SCOTT TAYLOR

Dawson Pasternak intends on making the roster of the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks this season. In fact, he’s so hopeful that his parents, Craig and Cindy, have already set up Dawson in school in Portland for the fall term.

 

 

 


Pasternak isn’t big at 5-foot-6, 140 pounds. He’s not what a scout might call a power forward. And, as a 14-year-old, he wasn’t what the experts would call, “a can’t-miss prospect.” In fact, he was a fourth-round selection (85th overall) by the Winterhawks in the 2018 WHL bantam draft.
But, over the last 14 months, Pasternak, whose family is a member of Congregation Etz Chayim, has emerged as one of the finest skilled, offensive prospects in Western Canada.
“He’s working very hard and he definitely wants to play in Portland this season,” said his mom, Cindy. “Everyone’s expectations are that he’ll make it with the Winterhawks, so we’ve registered him in school in Portland.”

Pasternak’s journey from the Bantam Triple A Winnipeg Hawks to the verge of claiming a spot in the WHL has been a quite rocket blast to the top. Fact is, he’s had two great seasons back-to-back.
In 2018, as a 14-year-old, he had 15 goals and 45 points in 31 games and helped to lead the Hawks to a Hockey Manitoba provincial bantam championship. He was then drafted by the Winterhawks and the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Dauphin Kings (second round, 13th overall). He also attended Portland’s main training camp and got a surprise visit from a highly-regarded young hockey coach named Noelle Needham.
“Last year I was at Portland’s main camp and the person who would become my coach at Sioux Falls was actually there watching it,” Dawson said. “My friend from Winnipeg, Jack Oleksiuk, had already played for Sioux Falls, and he told Noelle to watch me while I was at camp.
“She’s fun. She’s tough. But she’s a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs. She knows everything and it’s great to have her as a coach. It’s really great playing for a woman. I really like it. I was surprised when I first heard I would have a female coach and I didn’t know how it would be, but it’s great. She’s just a great coach.”

On the heels of his decision to play for the Sioux Falls U16 Power, Pasternak’s career took off. He signed a contract with Portland in January; played for Team Manitoba at the 2019 Canada Winter Games; finished the season in Sioux Falls with 21 goals and 61 points in 56 games (with 104 penalty minutes) and then, playing his favourite summer sport, ball hockey, won the World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic in July.
“I love playing ball hockey,” said Pasternak, who was the world championship’s scoring leader and tournament MVP. “It’s great to be a world champ. It feels so good.”
Meanwhile, even though Manitoba finished fifth in Red Deer, he certainly enjoyed his experience at the Canada Games, as well.
“It was a really cool experience,” he said. “I started out on the third line with Cabrel Labossiere and Hunter Wallace. It was an odd line. Labossiere is about 6-foot-4, Wallace is about 5-foot and I’m in the middle at 5-foot-6. It looked funny but we just came out flying. We scored four or five goals in the first two games. We clicked really well. So, later in the tournament the coaches moved me to a line with Connor Roulette and Eric Alarie and one game we had five points in a 6-4 win. It was really good.”

It’s been quite a ride, but it’s not like it wasn’t expected. Dawson has been a noticeably gifted player since the day he started playing the game with his older brother Riley, 18, who now is a counsellor at Camp Massad in Sandy Hook (where their younger brother Benjamin, 12, is also a camper).
“I started playing when I was four years old - Timbits in Garden City,” he recalled. “Then I grew up playing for the Seven Oaks Raiders until I was 10 and then in my 11 and 12-year-old seasons, I played for the Rebels. The first year I played for the Rebels was the first year they had a team. At 13 and 14 I played for the Hawks and then in my second year with the Hawks we won the provincial championship and went to Westerns. It was great. Then last year, as a 15-year-old, I played for the U16 team in Sioux Falls.
“As a 15-year-old, I was younger and smaller than most players in that league. The travel was so much different. We played a schedule with more than 60 games all over the United States for the entire season. It’s a long season. And we practiced every single day, Monday through Friday. Every weekend we had a showcase and played at least three, often four games in the weekend.”
“But I love it there. It’s way different than being at home and playing with the same guys my whole life. It was like a new start. Living away from home was different but it was definitely for the best. My plan this year is to go to Portland’s main camp, make the team and stay there. But if I don’t make the Winterhawks, I’m going to go back to Sioux Falls and play for Noelle and the U16 team again.”

Coach Needham certainly loved having him in Sioux Falls.
“He was a year younger than most players and despite his size, his IQ and skill set were so good that I really wanted to work with him,” said Needham, who played six seasons in the highly-regarded Shattuck-St. Mary’s program. “And he turned out to be a great kid. He has a contagious personality. He was a really good teammate. His biggest adjustment was consistency, just to be good every day. But by the end of the season, he took a big step with the development of his mental maturity. He was no longer up and down, but was consistent every day.
“He’s obviously a good hockey player, but he’s also a great kid and a good person. I hope he makes it in Portland, but there will be a spot for him here if he doesn’t. He was among the top U16 players in the country as a 15-year-old.”

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