When the final horn sounded, not only had the Barrie Colts been eliminated from the OHL playoffs, but Aaron Luchuk had also played his last game as a junior hockey player.
The Colts lost to his hometown Kingston Frontenacs in six games of the Eastern Conference semi-finals: Luchuk’s time in the OHL had gone full circle.
His five-year journey since leaving Kingston as a 16-year old could be described as a roller coaster ride, but one where he’s always gripped tightly to God.
“I was taught at an early age to give glory to God by my parents and I still do that to this day,” said Luchuk, who led the league in scoring with 50 goals and 115 points.
In 2013 he was drafted in the 4th round of the OHL to the Windsor Spitfires, but Luchuk struggled his first year at camp and didn’t make the team. He was demoted to play down the highway for their farm team, the La Salle Vipers.
“It was tough; I didn’t really have the best year. It was one of those ‘what now’ moments where you didn’t really know what was going to happen next, but I stuck with it,” said Luchuk.
This commitment paid off as the following season he came back stronger to training camp and cracked a spot on the Spitfires roster. Luchuk eventually progressed his way up the lineup, but he had to work hard at this, and to rely on God in a new way.
After growing up his whole life in church and attending a Christian school, now more than 600 kilometres from home, the young teenager had to make the faith he professed personal.
“I wasn’t used to maintaining those faith practices all on my own. That’s where I started to really want to know more about God,” said Luchuk, who grew up at Bayridge Alliance Church in Kingston.
This deeper understanding of his identity in Christ helped Luchuk navigate the setbacks he faced at the beginning of his OHL career.
“My first couple years in the OHL it was definitely hard because it felt like I was almost failing. That was tough,” Luchuk said. “My faith definitely got me through a lot of situations where things weren’t going my way at all. I’d wake up in the morning and feel like things were just getting worse hockey-wise, but I was fortunate to battle through that.”
Like many Christian hockey players, Luchuk benefitted from Hockey Ministries International in meeting with a Chaplain on a weekly basis.
“It’s tough in the OHL not being able to get to church as much as you’d like to. Those Tuesday afternoons after practice it was definitely a big day for me when I got to hear the Word,” said the centre forward that had no other evangelical Christian teammates on his Windsor team.
Last season in his fourth year with Windsor, Luchuk earned a bigger role on the team and was contributing offensively; he tallied 60 points in the regular season.
The Spitfires also hosted the Memorial Cup in 2017. As the host, Windsor got a bye to play in the final tournament against the best teams in the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL. The hometown team played well throughout the round robin and advanced all the way to the finals against the OHL champion Erie Otters.
The two OHL rivals traded goals for much of the championship game, the score was tied 3-3 after two periods. Then, just over five minutes into the third period, Windsor’s Jeremy Braco broke out on the wing and found Luchuk cutting through the middle towards the net. Once the Kingston-native received the puck, he picked a corner and scored. His goal proved to be the game-winner and the Spitfires won the Memorial Cup.
“At the time it didn’t feel real,” said Luchuk. “Scoring that goal in the Memorial Cup in Windsor was special. That was kind of the highest of high moments you can achieve as a junior hockey player.”
“But for me the thing that I’ve always come back to in my hockey career and life is ‘glory to God.’ I remember saying that to myself on the bench after scoring that goal. It was a crazy moment and a lot of praise came with it. I just came before God and I thanked Him for the gifts to be able to play well.”
Luchuk’s heroics and strong play led to several more accomplishments. The following season he was named captain of the Spitfires, but this tenure was short-lived because on December 14th he was traded from Windsor to the Barrie Colts.
Less than two weeks later, the overage player then hit another milestone as he got signed by the Ottawa Senators.
The Spitfires veteran didn’t skip a beat even with his new team in Barrie. The OHL’s goals and points leader has been nominated for three year-end awards: Overage Player of the Year, Most Sportsmanlike Player of the Year, and Most Outstanding Player of the Year.
Luchuck’s diligence to grow in his relationship with God also continued with the new club. Upon arriving in Barrie, he was plugged in with Chaplain Darren Johnson (Pastor from New Life Baptist Church) and he even boarded with Christian teammate Christopher Cameron.
“The time I was in Barrie was probably most influential in my faith journey. Those two guys (Darren and Chris) will always be my friends,” said Luchuk in reflection.
This has kept the 21-year old level-headed amidst all of the exciting events in his life.
When training camp starts for the Senators this summer, Luchuk will again be trying to make a team, but this time at the highest level in the NHL. As his junior hockey career is officially over, Luchuk has certainly left his mark in the OHL.
For young Christian athletes trying to embark on a similar quest, the Ottawa Senators player urges them to stay true to God. “Be yourself. A lot of times you feel like you have to act like someone you’re not. That usually gets you into trouble, lean on God. Through the ups and downs, remember God has a plan, he never shuts a door without opening another.”