Men’s hockey coach Brett Gibson isn’t sure if he’ll ever be able to replace his departing captain.
“It’s hard to comprehend not having Jon Lawrance [next season],” Gibson said. “He brought leadership, effort and skill that may not ever walk through the doors of Queen’s again.”
Lawrance, a fifth-year forward, has captained the Gaels for the past four seasons. Gibson said he didn’t hesitate naming Lawrance captain after his rookie year.
“After [former captain] Jeff Ovens graduated, there was no one in the next group who really stood out,” Gibson said. “I knew I needed to mould someone for the future and [Lawrance] had maturity beyond his years.”
Lawrance, a Winnipeg native, first joined the Gaels in 2007. Gibson said he was one of the first-ever recruits that required “time and effort” to bring to the program — prior to that, the hockey team consisted of players who already went to Queen’s and attended open tryouts.
“[Gibson] never saw [me] play, it was all strictly word-of-mouth back then,” Lawrance said, adding that recruiting was done through phone conversations.
Since then, Gibson has started making an annual week-long recruiting trip to the western provinces. There are eight western Canadians currently on the roster.
Gibson had only coached the Gaels for one season when Lawrance joined the team, but Lawrance said the program has taken enormous strides since then.
“Coming in, we were just starting out as a program and you could kind of tell everyone’s just getting into their bearings,” he said. “Over the last four years, [Gibson] has grown a lot as a coach and he’s learned how to deal with the guys in the room.”
Lawrance recorded 100 career points in 141 career games at Queen’s, leading the Gaels to a playoff spot in each of the last three seasons. But the captain didn’t just make on-ice contributions.
In February, Lawrance earned his second straight nomination for the Randy Gregg Award, a national award given to a player who best exhibits outstanding achievement in hockey, academics and community involvement.
As a first-year physical therapy student, Lawrance has also volunteered with Queen’s Revved Up and Limestone Health’s Heart Strong — two Kingston-based programs that run fitness programs for people with various health problems.
Lawrance said he also made it his duty to promote home games to students — but without an arena on campus, he said it has been difficult to attract fans.
“The first question people always ask is, ‘Where’s the Memorial Centre?’” Lawrance said. “When you say it’s North of Princess, it’s always ‘Okay, I’m not going there.’”
Lawrance said it was especially difficult playing in front of small crowds after hearing about what games were like at Jock Harty arena, the on-campus rink that was torn down after the 2006-07 season. It was supposed to be replaced as part of the Queen’s Centre Phases 2 and 3, but the project has since been put on hold indefinitely.
“You hear about the games they had where everyone would stop by,” Lawrance said. “We never had that home crowd environment.”
In Lawrance’s five seasons with the Gaels, he only once made it past the first round of the playoffs. He said this year’s team could have done better than a first-round playoff exit if not for injuries.
“This year’s team was the best I’ve been a part of in the past five years,” Lawrance said. “We had a lot of key guys out for long periods of time … we couldn’t just put it together at the right time in the end.”
Although he’s no longer eligible as an OUA athlete, Lawrance will return to Queen’s in September for the last year of his studies.
Gibson — who said Lawrance was “essentially a player-coach” this season — has already invited him to join the coaching staff and Lawrance said he wants to stay involved with the team.
“There’s definitely a good core of guys [returning],” Lawrance said. “Guys like Joe [Derochie] and Payton [Liske], who were out this year, will give the lineup a huge boost.”
— With files from Gilbert Coyle
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