In a hockey career that has transported him all around the province, Derek Schoenmakers has certainly paid his dues.
The Laurier winger played four seasons in the OHL, representing the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, the Sudbury Wolves, the Windsor Spitfires and the Kitchener Rangers, before setting his sights on the OUA with the Golden Hawks.
“It was nice to know where I was going to be for four years,” he said.
The Kitchener native is certainly happy to have returned to where his career started and to get some roots in the ground.
As a late pick in the OHL draft, Schoenmakers wasn’t certain he’d play at the major junior level and the NCAA became a more likely prospect. He intended to play a few years at the Junior B level before heading south, but then his plans were disrupted by a call to sign with Mississauga in the OHL.
“It became a no-brainer,” he said.
“I went to Kitchener Rangers’ games every Friday for 15 years. It was a dream come true when I got the call, so it was tough to turn that down.”
Schoenmakers is the first to admit that his initial foray into major junior hockey was more of a learning experience than anything, playing only 23 games in his first season.
“I was one of the little minnows compared to some of the other guys [out] there, but that’s how you start in a league like that. I just learned a lot from the older guys and the coaching staff about how to work everyday and how to act like a pro.”
The 24-year-old credits this early experience in helping shape his game throughout the rest of his career. Playing more regularly, Schoenmakers notched a total of 102 points throughout his four OHL seasons.
Looking for more stability, Schoenmakers began his career with the Golden Hawks in 2012. Making an immediate impact, the 6’2” left winger contributed 15 goals and 11 assists in 33 games on his way to being named the team’s most valuable player in the 2013-14 season.
Schoenmakers would earn this honour once again following the 2015-16 season, after recording 17 goals and 7 assists in 28 games.
While reflecting on his past five seasons with the Golden Hawks, Schoenmakers noted the obvious differences between OUA and major junior hockey.
“The OUA is a little different with guys coming from a bunch of different leagues,”
“There are some guys that are tier two players and they’re the best on the team and they’re unbelievable, and there are other guys from out east that you’ve never seen, and they’re unbelievable too, so it’s kind of a weird mix like that.”
The economics major was also impressed with the even level of competition in the OUA, a stark contrast from the OHL where certain teams are decidedly dominant over others.
“[The OUA] is a very competitive league top to bottom. We can beat or lose to any team any given night. It’s tough to find the consistency of competition like there is in the OUA.”
Schoenmakers has shown a similar level of consistency on his own this season, leading the team with 10 goals to go along with 10 assists and helping the Golden Hawks to a 10-8-4 record.
With seven games left in the regular season, Schoenmakers is setting his sights on the future.
“It’s going to be nice to graduate, I’ll say that,” he said, laughing.
Though the future is uncertain, he knows that hockey will always be a part of his life.
“Whether it’s playing, or coaching, or anything else, I like to think my main goal in life is just to stay in sports somehow … Hockey has given me so much in my life, whether in junior or university. I kind of want to stay connected to it and do what I can.”