Hunter Andrew started this past hockey season trying to win a title for his hometown team and ended it hoisting a championship trophy for a squad based in the American South.
The son of Brock and Andrea Andrew started the 2020-2021 Manitoba Junior Hockey League campaign as an important cog on a talented Virden Oil Capitals team with its eyes on championship. After the Oil Caps got out to a league-best 8-0-1-0 start, the COVID-10 pandemic forced the MJHL to pause its season.
In February, the MJHL cancelled the remainder of the campaign and Andrew, looking for a place to play, headed south to the Charlotte Rush. Along with Virden’s Dexter Whittle, the talented 18-year-old forward helped the South Carolina team win the United States Premier Hockey League’s Premier Division national championship. Andrew believes the Oil Caps and Rush share some of the same traits.
“I think the biggest similarity between the two teams is that they both have a winning culture and an expectation and belief in the program that we can win every single night,” he said.
Wherever Andrew has played, he has had the backing of his family.
“Over my hockey career, my family has always been there for me,” he said. “No matter what it is, they would do it to help me be successful on and off the ice.”
After joining the Rush, the speedy 5-foot-11, 167-pound Andrew established himself as a contributor. Andrew had a goal and four points in four regular season games. In the playoffs, he had a goal in seven games. Andrew helped the Rush beat the Florida Eels, 2-0, in the UPSHL’s Premier Division championship game in Chesapeake, Va. Charlotte head coach Trevor Jewell said that Andrew impressed him every day.
“His compete level is one of the best I’ve seen at his age,” the coach said. “He’s extremely creative and thinks the game at a high level. The things he is able to do in tight with the puck are just mid blowing. But he’s a horse, he comes to work ready to go every day and makes sure his teammates are ready to go as well and does it all with a smile on his face.”
Andrew enjoyed his time on and off the ice in South Carolina. Whittle and Andrew billeted at the same home along with some other teammates.
“Living in Charlotte was a really cool experience, going to the rink in beautiful weather everyday is something I really enjoyed,” Andrew said. “I also got to billet with a really great family and a couple of teammates as well who all made me feel right at home.”
Earlier in the hockey season, in Virden, Andrew helped the Oil Caps rack up wins until the season was paused.
“The thing I enjoyed most about our short start to the season was really just winning and the mood at the rink because of it,” he said. “We knew we had a really good team to start the season and I think that really showed in those first nine games.”
Andrew was seventh on the Oil Caps with three goals in seven games. His four points put him 10th on the team in scoring.
“Hunter has been a very good player for us,” Virden head coach Tyson Ramsey said. “He is one of the elite skaters in the league and what sets him apart from other players is his ability to play whatever type of game is required of him to be successful. He can play with speed and skill, but he can also adapt and play a grinding, forechecking, hard-nosed style of game. He is physical and can also score goals. He is a valuable member of our forward group and a character kid who works hard and is able to block out all around him to focus on what he needs to do to get better.”
Ramsey said he is excited to see where Andrew can take his game in the future. He has already witnessed Andrew develop his game in many ways.
“He is constantly working on the fundamentals of his game to improve himself,” Ramsey said. “He is a natural skater and has really gotten quicker over the last two seasons. He has good skills and with all the work he puts in, he is getting stronger and more comfortable using his strength to help him protect pucks and get to places where he can make plays and score goals. I look forward to what another off season of training will do for his game.”
Whittle's perspective on the win
The closeness of the Charlotte Rush organization helped Virden’s Dexter Whittle fit in and contribute to a championship squad when he headed south to North Carolina.
The son of Alana George Whittle and Clifford Whittlehelped the Rush claim the United State Premier Hockey League’s Premier Division national championship. He was teammates on that squad with fellow Virden product Hunter Andrew. The Rush’s Elite Division team also won its national championship.
“What I really enjoyed about the Rush organization is how close everyone is,” Whittle said. “The Premier and Elite teams are all so close and spend so much time together that it really helped me get comfortable and meet my teammates after I moved down here. One of the sayings the team has is ‘Two teams, one family” and I really noticed the meaning of that during the short time I've played here.”
In six games – all in the postseason, the 5-foot-9 ½, 175-pound Whittle recorded one assist for the Rush. Charlotte head coach Trevor Jewell said that Whittle, who has committed to play next season for the Virden Oil Capitals, has many strengths to his game.
“I love the way he plays,” Jewell said. “He’s hard, physical and skates very well. He’s young and has a very bright future. I think his shot is a little underrated, he gets that thing off and it’s quick and accurate. His physicality is next level, plays the game like a man and owns the corners and net front. His IQ is beyond his years. He thinks the game so well. He’s very good with his stick and his body positioning is near perfect.”
A 16-year-old, Whittle started the season with the U18 AAA Southwest Cougars. After their season was paused and eventually cancelled, he seized an opportunity to play for the Rush. The Virden Collegiate Institute student used Zoom to take part in his classes while he was away.
In the USPHL Premier championship game, the Rush and Florida Eels were tied at 0-0 after two periods. The Rush prevailed 2-0 to win the championship.
“In the third period, I felt like everyone knew it was the last 20 minutes that we had left together in the season, and that it would be a lot more enjoyable if we pulled out the win,” Whittle said. “We knew we weren’t playing the best, but it was a tie game and we only needed one to win.”