Hayden Ostir’s Western Hockey League career spanned 245 games, three teams, two countries and saw him with a gold medal while playing for Team Canada around his neck to boot. But there was a time when he wasn’t sure the WHL was for him.
“Originally I wanted to go to college more because my dad went to the University of Denver,” Ostir explained. “I was thinking it would be sweet to go to college, so I made sure to keep my grades up for that. But once I got drafted that made me realize I wanted to go to the WHL.”
Born and raised in Winnipeg, hockey was all Ostir ever knew from a young age. Whether it was during hockey season, summer hockey or inline hockey, the game has been a constant presence in his life for as long as he can remember.
At just 14 years old, Ostir and his family made the decision to send him to British Columbia’s Interior to play his draft year at the Pursuit of Excellence program in Kelowna, to better help him develop his abilities.
“We decided it was the best thing for me to progress and get better,” he recalled. “I was able to get up early in the morning and get on the ice or workout for a few hours, where I wasn’t able to do that at home.”
Moving away from home at such a young age wasn’t an issue for Ostir, who says he can’t recall a single time he didn’t enjoy himself the entire season.
A daily schedule revolving around the game helped Ostir develop on and off the ice as his numbers showed he was a top-end player amongst his peers.
“Every morning we’d get to the rink around 7:00,” he said. “We’d either workout or skate in the morning and then walk to school. After school we’d got back to the rink and either workout or work on skills. They had a facility which was basically a mini rink, which is where we’d do shooting or stick handling and a workout facility above that.”
At the time, the POE program wasn’t affiliated with the Canadian Sport School Hockey League, and strictly played in tournaments throughout the year. Ostir posted 35 goals and 40 assists in 47 games, tied for second in team scoring.
Ostir’s team saw nine players selected in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft, including himself 36th overall by the Spokane Chiefs.
“I talked to quite a few scouts throughout the year,” Ostir said. “I talked to Spokane a lot, but I really thought I was going to Tri-City. I was pretty confident I was going to go in the second round.”
Other drafted players on his team included Logan Christansen 30th overall, Owen Hardy 42nd and Nick Henry 59th.
Following the draft Ostir returned home to Winnipeg to play for his local Midget AAA team, the Winnipeg Wild.
“I think the Wild were my first choice for that year because a lot of my friends were there,” Ostir said. “There weren’t a lot of the POE guys going back either. We had a good team that year with guys like Stelio Mattheos and Max Martin.”
Ostir had little trouble adjusting from Bantam to Midget posting 37 points in 43 games before scoring five goals in just seven playoff games with the Wild.
The jump from Midget to the WHL proved to be a much larger hurdle.
“I wanted to play as a 16-year-old. At the time I thought it was the best thing for me, but looking back it may have been a good thing to develop a bit more,” Ostir admitted. “But I don’t regret it at all. I had a ton of fun and a lot of good memories from it.”
While he says he was given plenty of chances to produce, Ostir struggled to find the scoresheet during his rookie season in the WHL, scoring just one goal and chipping in with two assists in 53 games.
“It was kind of a shock,” he said of his lack of production. “I didn’t really know what was going on. I was getting a lot of chances I just couldn’t bury. Playing against bigger guys I wasn’t able to dominate physically like I did in previous years, I wasn’t faster than most of the guys I played against either.”
There was some silver lining in a tough 2015-16 campaign for Ostir as he pulled a Team Canada sweater over his head at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Northern B.C.
After a strong impression at the development camp in the summer before the season, Ostir was given the news that he would play for Team Canada White at the event in early November. Canada White featured 10 players who would eventually be drafted into the NHL, with five of them in the first round.
“We were really good, but if you looked around the other teams there were a ton of unreal players,” Ostir said. “At the time we were pretty good but I didn’t realize we were going to win the whole thing.”
The future first rounders on Ostir’s team included Owen Tippett (2017, 10th), Gabe Vilardi (2017, 11th), Nick Suzuki (2017, 13th), Evan Bouchard (2018, 10th) and Robert Thomas (2017, 20th). Other NHL draftees included Ian Mitchell (2017, 57th), Jaret Anderson-Dolan (2017, 41st), Greg Meirles (2019, 168th), Ryan McLeod (2018, 40th) and Ian Scott (2017, 110th).
After a slow start going 1-2 in round robin play, Canada White found their groove with a 4-2 win over Finland in the quarter final and 2-1 win in the semis over Sweden before a meeting with Russia in the gold medal game.
While Ostir self-admittedly didn’t play very much during the tournament, he does have one specific memory from the gold medal game that sticks out in his mind.
“I saved a goal in that game,” Ostir said. “I remember how fast Russia was. You’re used to playing against 19-and-20-year-olds at the time but that team was so fast. There a chance for Russia where the puck got behind our goalie but I was there to sweep it off the line and clear it away. That was the highlight for me.”
Team Russia had future second overall pick Andrei Svechnikov on the roster, but Canada White held them at bay to claim gold with a 6-2 win.
After his rookie season wrapped up in Spokane, Ostir was determined to make more of an impact in his second season, though he says he didn’t feel too much different from his rookie season.
“I had a lot of opportunity when I was 16,” he said. “It was more of me thinking ‘I’m older now, I need to be better.’ I had a good pre-season too which really helped me out.”
Compared to his rookie season, Ostir’s numbers exploded with eight goals and 11 assists in 52 games, while playing on an extremely deep Spokane team.
While enjoying the new-found on-ice success, Ostir also said he very much enjoyed the off-ice aspect of playing for the Chiefs as well.
“Going to an American high school was one of the coolest things,” he stated. “Everything you see in movies with like the huge rivalries with other schools, that’s exactly how it was down there.”
A solid second season under his belt, Ostir returned to the States and got out to a strong start in his third WHL campaign with three goals an three assists in the first 10 games, but was then caught off guard when he was told he was being traded.
“I was shocked,” he recalled. “We left practice and I got a call saying the GM at the time wanted to talk to me. I pulled up to the rink and there was a text in group chat from Rykr Cole saying we got Zach Fischer from Medicine Hat and he was getting released. At that moment I knew I was getting traded. I told my billet dad and he honestly didn’t believe me for the first couple minutes.”
Ostir, along with Eric Van Impe and a second-round pick were sent to the Tigers in exchange for the 20-year-old forward as the Chiefs were looking to bolster their lineup.
“It definitely didn’t feel real for a while,” Ostir said. “But I got to Medicine Hat and immediately was given power-play time and playing on the first line with Mark Rassell and James Hamblin. I had a good first half but then got injured and that kind of brought me down.”
Despite dressing in just 30 games with the Tigers, Ostir scored six goals and added 14 assists with his new team to end the 2017-18 season with nine goals and 17 assists.
Injuries hampered Ostir’s fourth season in the league as well as he dressed in 49 of the Tigers 68 games in 2018-19, but still scored a career-high 11 goals to go along with 11 assists.
Despite the career-high in goals, Ostir admits he was probably trying to do too much at the beginning of the year to try and be an impact player as a 19-year-old.
With four seasons under his belt, Ostir entered his 20-year-old season hoping to stick around with the Tiger as an overager, but quickly knew his time as a Tiger was over.
“I was hoping to be one of the three,” he said. “I knew they were going to keep Hamblin and (Tyler) Preziuso and I assumed the third spot was going to be for a defenceman. They dropped Logan Christensen so I thought I might get the chance, but that same day they picked up Parker Gavlas and I knew it was done.”
Ostir returned home to Winnipeg hoping to enroll at the University of Manitoba for this past school year, but missed the cut off to get his application in. Though he admits he wasn’t quite ready to leave the WHL.
After receiving a call from Dean Brockman on Thanksgiving, Ostir hopped on a flight and joined the Broncos on their B.C. road trip.
“I knew the Broncos were in a rebuild, so I knew we weren’t going to be contenders,” Ostir said. “But I just thought about how much fun I had in previous years and I had heard a lot of good things about Swift Current.”
Suddenly finding himself as one of the oldest guys in the room, Ostir kept his laid-back attitude but also added an element of veteran leadership to the locker room on a young Broncos team.
He also added a level of scoring as he would eventually finish third on the team with 10 goals and 14 assists in 50 games.
“Being a leader was a bit different for me,” he admitted. “Just trying to be a bit of a rock for guys. It was different but it was a ton of fun, and honestly one of the best years of my life. I think that team will be good in a couple years, there’s a lot of young guys with room to grow.”
Ostir had his WHL career cut short by five games when the season was cancelled, news which shocked the entire team. He says it still doesn’t feel real.
“I wish we could have had a real send off,” he said. “We couldn’t even hang out one last time. Some guys left town right after we got the news and some guys left the following the morning.”
Now a WHL graduate, Ostir is preparing to attend the University of Manitoba in the fall of 2020 as he begins the next stage of his life.