Whitehorse product finds home in Fernie

Hockey has taken Johnny Elias on a long journey.

The Whitehorse, YK, native left home at 15 for a shot at playing more competitive hockey. Look at his resume on www.eliteprospects.com and his road has taken him to the Kootenay’s, playing major midget hockey with the Ice and Vancouver Island with the Silvertips. He made the jump to junior hockey with the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League’s Oceanside Generals as well as the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s (KIJHL) Kimberley Dynamiters, Golden Rockets and Columbia Valley Rockies.

Last fall, however, he found a permanent home with the Fernie Ghostriders following a trade from the Rockies on Oct. 4 for a player development fee.

“It’s taken a lot of patience, but I’m grateful now that I have this opportunity with this team,” says Elias, after collecting two assists in a win over the Castlegar Rebels.

As soon as Elias arrived in Fernie, the fit felt right.

“I realized that this was a first-class organization. It’s a beautiful town and I fell in love with it right away,” he says. “It’s a place I can call my second home for sure.”

It’s because Fernie reminds him of home with the mountain and it’s size – not too big and not too small.

“Fernie has an atmosphere unlike anywhere else I have seen which made it so attractive to me,” he added. “The people make it what it is, and the amount of town support we get is unbeatable.

It was difficult for the 19-year-old admits to leave home at such a young age, but says, once players in Whitehorse reach midget, they have to search for tougher competition. Elias was eventually joined by fellow Whitehorse native, Gavin Lawrie.

Along with his parents, Elias says his minor hockey coaches Martin Lawrie and Jacob Jirousek have been influential.

“They kind of shaped me into the player I would become,” says Elias. “We grew up with those coaches all through minor hockey. They gave us the best opportunity to get out of Whitehorse for tougher competition.”

Often Elias would play in higher age groups and when reaching bantam and midget, his teams had to play against men’s recreational teams.

Prior to leaving home, and during his final season of bantam, Elias played in the Canada Winter Games for Team Yukon, collecting an assist in five games.He describes the Canada Winter Games as “one of the best hockey experiences I’ve ever had.”

He also played for Team North in the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships for three years. “Playing with and against some of the top aboriginal talent in the country, it was unreal,” says Elias, as Team North consisted of the three territories to compete against other provinces.

It was valuable experience for the five-foot-eight, 165-pound forward. He learned the importance of coming together as a group in short tournaments is. Players have to gel right away and buy into roles for team success. He was underage competing in the CWG, which was a “huge eye-opener for me.” Elias discovered how good other players were and knew where he wanted to be.

“I went from my first year midget to third year and just to grow as a player throughout that tournament, I was a leader for that team,” he says. “It helped me a lot.”

And now he is a leader for the Ghostriders.

“He’s a very light and easy going guy. He puts pressure on himself,” says Ghostriders assistant coach/assistant GM, Tal Klaudt. “Sometimes you have to build him up. He’s a guy that understands that he’s in a leadership role, even though he doesn’t wear a letter. He really tries to bring a positive attitude everyday.”

The Ghostriders didn’t initially know what they were getting in Elias. Once he arrived, it took little time to establish himself. He’s viewed as a solid two-way guy, that produces. In 80 career KIJHL games, Elias has 44 points. Thirty-eight of those with the Ghostriders. He is counted on in situations.

“He kind of leads the way by defining details for a younger team,” says Klaudt. “He’s a guy we rely on to set the example.”

Elias brings an aggressive style and is considered one of the Ghostriders best skaters.

“He has a gift offensively,” says Klaudt. “He is also very strong on the d-side of the puck.”

Elias has surprised the coaching staff with his offence this season – eight goals, 25 points in 22 games. Last season he had eight goals, 13 points in 39 games.

Off the ice, he is just as great.

“One of the guys that are always laughing and joking around,” says Klaudt. “He’s the lighter attitude guy on the team and very positive in all areas.”

When asked about personal goals, without hesitation, Elias talks about team success and his desire to win the KIJHL championship.

“It’s been a long time since Fernie has won (2007-08). That is the mindset that a lot of us have in the room,” says Elias.