Local goaltender embracing university hockey lifestyle
Grand Falls-Windsor native and junior hockey standout goaltender AJ Whiffen has taken his game to the next level.
© Photo courtesy Rob Weitzel/www.sportsshooter.ca
Grand Falls-Windsor native AJ Whiffen makes a save during a game with University of Regina Cougars. Whiffen graduated from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and has been suiting up for the Cougars, while working towards a kinetics degree.
This past summer, the University of Regina came calling for Whiffen after he posted a league leading 2.26 GAA, with a .924 save percentage, and broke a single season league shutout record, with the Weyburn Red Wings of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Despite being a rookie, the 21-year-old has received 10 starts with the Cougars making the jump to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level, made up of talented players from various major junior and junior leagues.
"It has definitely been a big adjustment. Some of the guys are older and more mature and having to balance hockey and school has been different, but it has been going good," said Whiffen. "I seem to have been able to catch up. At first it was an adjustment because the game is faster and it took me a couple weeks to hit a stride, but it's good."
The major change for Whiffen has come off the ice. The goaltender used to be able to dedicate all his focus to the Red Wings, but now has to dedicate time towards a kinetics degree when he is not on the ice.
"I find it is not too bad. If you do the studying it's not that hard," said Whiffen, who is taking three courses this semester. "It's kind of a light load, but I didn't want to be overwhelmed and with hockey it is enough. It was difficult at first with school all day and then practice. I've found that once you get in a groove it's good."
Whiffen also has to balance his books with his time on the road.
Where the Red Wings faced teams in Saskatchewan, the Cougars face university squads from as far as Edmonton and Vancouver.
"The travel is a little bit longer and sometimes we have to fly. Usually I don't have classes on Fridays, so I don't miss much," said Whiffen.
The Cougars have been struggling this season and are sitting in seventh, and final, place in the Canada West University Athletics Association with a 17-15-2 record.
After spending three seasons with the Red Wings, watching players come and go, Whiffen has been the player joining a new team and is making the best of that opportunity.
"It was OK (coming in). There are three guys that I have played with in the past, so that helped," said Whiffen. "A few of the older guys take you under their wing and help you out. It has been really good."
Whiffen said he plans on taking his time with the Cougars year by year and seeing where it takes him.
The netminder's early starts came from a suspension and injury to the club's veteran goaltender Adam Ward. Lately, Whiffen has been getting regular starts from Head Coach Blaine Sautner and is making the best of them and will try and end the season on a positive note.
"You definitely have to earn your starts," said Whiffen. "You have to impress the coaches and make the best of your playing time and so far they have been impressed."