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Ben Hatanaka extends his hockey stint in the north another few years
2020-05-16

Laurentian University and hockey were the driving forces that would bring 21 year-old forward and Burlington native Benjamin Hatanaka to the Rayside-Balfour Canadians of the NOJHL two years ago.

Now, the Laurentian Voyageurs will help him stay in the north, for at least a few more years.

Hatanaka was one of eight new recruits unveiled to media in recent weeks, coming off a season in which he registered 52 points in 55 games with the local juniors (his numbers would read 41 pts in 50 GP one year earlier).

A little on the small side (5'10"), but blessed with above average skating ability, Hatanaka would follow a hockey pathway that was quite similar to most of his Rayside teammates, with perhaps just one extra bump along the way.

"When I started hockey, I was going along with the "AAA" regimen, where year after year, I was on the "AAA" team, and I knew that I was going to be there - not to sound cocky or anything," he said. "I just knew from my abilities."

"In my minor bantam year, I got cut from AAA and got sent down to AA, and that was kind of a wake-up call. Every year after that, I tried to remember that you had to keep working hard, or someone else is going to take your spot."

Where size might not matter a ton in pre-teen levels of hockey, the ability to adjust is generally key the further one climbs the ladder in the sport. "My buddy actually sent me some clips of us playing when we were kids, and I was very small," said Hatanaka, with a laugh.

"I've always been kind of on the shorter side. I think the biggest jump for me, just because of my size, was in junior hockey, just because there were a lot more bigger boys out there. I've always relied on my skating and my hockey IQ to get me through."

Averaging just under a point per game in two seasons with the Ancaster Avalanche of the GOJHL, Hatanaka would catch the eye of a Rayside scout, with the academic-athletic mix critical to the discussion that would land the talkative young man in Sudbury.

"After my first year (in Ancaster), I was contacted by someone in Rayside, and I decided that wasn't the right time to make the move," he said. "I wanted to stay home for an extra year. But then I saw that Rayside did really well (the next year), and with the schooling there, I knew that I really wanted to start university."

"My family has always told me that education is more important than hockey. That was a big part of the decision, the fact that I could do both, continue to play junior hockey, and manage a university course load."

Once here, it was a matter of drawing the attention of Laurentian head coach Craig Duncanson. One of the real bonus' to Hatanaka's game lie in his versatility, demonstrating a wide spectrum of skills in Rayside, one that included manning the blueline at times, when needed.

"I've always had the mindset that wherever the coach needs me, that's where I will play," he said. "Whether that was on defence, or playing a shutdown defesive role, or trying to put up goals if we need them, I fit wherever."

Another area where Hatanaka excelled this year is what is now termed, in general, as "puck management". The truth, at higher levels of hockey, is that for as much as making good things happen on the ice is important in creating value for any individual player, so too is their ability to avoid the poor decisions that can prove so costly to their team.

"I think for me, it all comes down to hard work, at the end of the day, working on protecting the puck from guys that are bigger than me, making sure I make smart plays as opposed to trying to force plays, limiting the mistakes that I make," he stated.

Sounds like the type of plan that will keep Benjamin Hatanaka here for a little longer yet.

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