Keaton Holinaty was a goal scoring machine when it mattered the most this past season for the Battlefords North Stars.
Not only did he pot 10 goals in 12 playoff games to help the North Stars win their first league championship in 17 years, but he also scored three goals in five Western Canada Cup (WCC) games. He was arguably their best player at the WCC.
His skillset and strong end to the season caught the eye of university scouts, as the Hardisty, Alta., native has committed to the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in Oshawa, Ont. where he will play for the Ridgebacks in U Sports (formerly CIS) this coming fall.
"The more I heard about it, the more I looked into it and the more I liked it," Holinaty said in a phone interview on Thursday. "Curtis [Hodgins] called me, the coach there... and pretty much told me nothing but good things about the school. I talked to a couple players on the team and they said the same thing.
"I'm just really excited to get things started."
A few factors went into Holinaty's decision. One was the drive to keep playing at the highest level possible. With U Sports, that goal was met.
"It's the best in Canada," Holinaty said. "I was convinced."
The other was an opportunity to really make his mark because the UOIT program is fairly new.
The Ridgebacks began playing in Ontario University Athletics, one of the three U Sports hockey conferences, in 2007-08. The school itself was founded in 2002.
They didn't win their first U Sports playoff series until 2015-16.
But they're on the rise.
In that 2015-16 season, they compiled a franchise best 18-8-1-1 record. This past season, they finished with a 16-11-0-1 record and almost upset the second-seeded Concordia Stingers in the first round after stealing the first game of the best-of-3 series. They fell in the decisive third game 3-2 and were knocked out of the playoffs.
"I was excited to start a new legacy there," Holinaty said. "It'll be a fresh start. I didn't get a good start to my junior career obviously. The opportunity wasn't there. But I feel like the opportunity will be there at UOIT, that's why I committed there."
The slow start to his junior career was with the Drumheller Dragons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League where he recorded 23 points in 98 games across two seasons from 2014-16.
But this year things were different.
North Stars head coach Nate Bedford gave him ample opportunity to succeed and he ran with it, scoring 20 goals in 56 regular season games before adding his 10 playoff goals.
"I think he was labelled probably incorrectly for a few years and people didn't know what he was capable of doing," Bedford said. "But he's a top-end goal scorer in junior when given the chance. He's going to be a top-end goal scorer in [U Sports] and he's going to get the chance.
"As far as a new school and fairly new coach, I think that's only going to help him. He's there to create a legacy so to speak with that team and help the development of it."
Holinaty said conversations with the Ridgebacks started roughly a couple weeks after the WCC.
He also admitted his strong WCC performance likely played a factor.
"[Hodgins] told me that he was watching some of the video from the [WCC] and he liked what he saw so I think that had a part to play there," Holinaty said. "I think my playoff performance and Western performance can speak for itself. I was just feeling good and I was on a roll."
The Ridgebacks announced the signing on their website on Wednesday.
"[Holinaty] is a coveted right hand centreman that I have been actively looking for," Hodgins said in the press release. "He showed this past season in Battlefords that he has the ability to put the puck in the net. But I think the thing I have been most impressed with is his willingness to play a complete game along with providing a solid presence in the faceoff circle."
Bedford actually knows Hodgins from his playing days and had nothing but good things to say about him as well.
"He coached against me when I played back in Ontario years and years ago and I had a lot of respect as a player for him," Bedford said. "He was very well prepared and knows what he's doing and I think he's well respected in the coaching world. So to send a player like [Holinaty] there, who I think is only getting better, I think sending him to [Hodgins] is awesome.
"They're getting a real good kid and I think it's a real good match."
Holinaty will study commerce. He said he'd like to own his own business some day, but he's got to take things one step at a time and first needs to learn what that would take before specializing.
Above all, he can't wait to get started.
"It's awesome to finally get signed," Holinaty said. "I've been thinking about signing with a college before junior even started. It's just awesome that it's happened now."
On Twitter: @NathanKanter11
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