This hasn’t been the easiest year of Mason Malkowich’s hockey career, but with the worst now behind him, the Cowichan Valley Capitals forward is now focusing on the future, both long-and short-term.
Malkowich missed 18 games in the middle of the B.C. Hockey League season after undergoing hand surgery, but he scarcely missed a beat when he returned, and has resumed being one of the team’s most dynamic and entertaining players, as well as one of the top producers.
"It wasn’t fun sitting out and watching the team struggle," Malkowich admitted. "Injuries are part of the game, and it’s something you’ve got to live with." Since returning in late November, Malkowich has compiled six goals and six assists in 17 contests, and remains fourth in team scoring despite the lengthy layoff. He was able to keep skating while he recovered, which made it easier to get back in the groove when he was healthy.
"The first four or five games were about trying to get my timing back," he said. "The one thing missing was my timing."
As confirmed by goals in back-toback games against Prince George and Powell River last weekend, that timing has since returned.
Malkowich joined the Caps last off-season to complete a junior A career that included stops with the New England Jr. Huskies of the Eastern Junior Hockey League and the Drayton Valley Thunder of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Born and raised on the Lower Mainland, Malkowich wanted to play his final season in the BCHL.
"It was always a goal mine to finish my career in B.C.," he said. "I spent a year in Boston, and I was in Alberta the next couple of years. Coming back to B.C. was something I was excited about, for sure, to get in here and contribute to the team."
Malkowich’s energy and scoring ability quickly made him a fan favourite with the Caps. He has also been recognized by the Cowichan coaching staff, who made him an alternate captain when he returned from his injury.
"I was definitely excited to get the ‘A,’" he said. "I felt like I was ready, and I feel like I’m doing a good job. I’m not too vocal; I like to lead by example. Guys at this level know what needs to be done."
Capitals head coach Bob Beatty, who traded for Malkowich last summer, has been pleased with Malkowich’s contributions to the team.
"Mason has added a lot of leadership," he said. "He’s a player you can bank on in the locker room and on the ice."
Additionally, Beatty points out that Malkowich doesn’t neglect his own end of the ice, and can kill penalties along with providing offence at regular strength and on the powerplay.
"He’s defensively responsible, as well," Beatty said. "It’s not all about goals and assists. I feel comfortable throwing him out there in any situation."
As a 20-year-old, Malkowich is hoping to play in the post-secondary ranks next season. While he hasn’t ruled out an NCAA deal, he is aiming to play and study in Canada, with the University of Toronto, Queen’s, Waterloo, Western Ontario and Ryerson at the top of his list.
"I’ve always looked at hockey as a way to get an education," he said. "It’s something I’ve worked toward all my career."
Something else that 20-year-olds face in the junior ranks as their careers wind down is the possibility that they will be traded to a contender. With the Caps just hanging on to a playoff berth, Malkowich could have been shipped to a team looking to add to its forward ranks at the deadline earlier this month, but he was happy with the outcome.
"You never know what’s going to happen, but I didn’t ask for a trade," he said. "I wanted to stay here and help turn things around. I’m glad I’m going to end my junior career as a Capital."
As for the postseason, Malkowich is confident that his team will not only make the playoffs, but could be a dark horse.
"Teams I’ve been on in the past have made the playoffs, but we’ve peaked too early," he said. "I think we can catch some teams off guard. I think the town needs it, and I think the team will deliver."