Pad save is made by John Hawthorne, who’s from Chemainus, in the Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ net against Niko Esposito-Selivanov of the Cowichan Valley Capitals. (Photo by Kevin Rothbauer/Cowichan Valley Citizen)

Bulldog from Chemainus will be a Wildcat next season

Hawthorne grateful for the chance to play Div. 1 in the U.S. after his BCHL development

John Hawthorne’s final season in the B.C. Hockey League is winding down, but he’s looking forward to continuing in the game at the next level.

The 20-year-old Chemainus product, playing goal for the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, has secured a place for next season with a scholarship to Northern Michigan University, a Div. 1 school in Marquette, Michigan.

“I’ve been talking to them for quite a while,” said Hawthorne. “I felt very comfortable with them.”

Maybe this recent snowfall will help him acclimatize to the Michigan winters. “It’s really cold,” he conceded.

But Hawthorne has been hot in the net for the Bulldogs this season, keeping them in contention during many games when they might not otherwise have any business being close.

His stats from two seasons as the Bulldogs’ primary starter are very similar, but his game is clearly better than a year ago.

In 2017-18, Hawthorne’s record was 15-24-2 from 45 games with a 3.62 goals against average and a .902 save percentage.

In the identical number of games during 2018-19, he’s 16-25-3 but with three shutouts, an improved goals against average of 2.98 and save percentage of 0.917.

Hawthorne recently claimed league player of the week honours after his shutout in Duncan against the Cowichan Valley Capitals in his own backyard. It’s his only shutout on the road this season; the other two were at home against the Nanaimo Clippers and Powell River Kings.

With the Caps and Bulldogs only a few points apart in the standings, “it was a really big game for us,” Hawthorne said of the Cowichan encounter. “I had a lot of friends and family at the game.”

Shutouts are always nice, especially because they’re fairly rare in the BCHL.

“The first two we played very good defensively,” Hawthorne pointed out. “I was a little more busy in that one.”

Winning the player of the week award, he added, is “not something you think about till it happens.”

Hawthorne concedes his time in hockey to this point has gone very quickly.

“All of a sudden, I’m 20; where did that time go? Obviously, I know a ton of guys that played junior hockey till they’re 20 and they’re done.

“I’ve got a scholarship. I’m very grateful and I’m very excited.”

Hawthorne has some unfinished business to attend to first before he thinks too much about what’s ahead. Last year, he had the Bulldogs heading for an upset of the higher-ranked Victoria Grizzlies with a 3-0 series lead in the playoffs before the Grizzlies came storming back to win four straight despite his heroic efforts in goal.

There’s a chance the teams could meet again in the playoffs and Hawthorne would love nothing more than to turn the tables on the Grizzlies, who are far ahead of the Bulldogs in the standings again.

“Individually, I’ve made some changes to my game I’m happy with,” he noted. “We’ve had some turnover this year. We’re coming together.

“Whether it’s a small thing or not, there’s always things you can improve.”

The Northern Michigan Wildcats have one senior goaltender from Finland graduating this year, leaving Hawthorne in contention with returning sophomore Nolan Kent of Alberta and another freshman for playing time.

“It’ll be a good battle,” Hawthorne anticipates.

He hasn’t yet settled on a major for school.

Hawthorne plans to be ready to take that next step on the ice.

“Obviously all the players, they’re bigger and they’re faster and they’re stronger and you have to improve yourself to keep up with that pace,” he said. “Obviously, there’s going to be an adjustment period.”

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John Hawthorne developed into a solid goaltender during his time in the BCHL with Alberni Valley. (Photo courtesy Alberni Valley Bulldogs)

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