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Lazar on hockey fast track

Curtis Lazar celebrates Team B.C.’s gold-medal win at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax.

Move over Steven Stamkos. Say goodbye Sidney Crosby. It’s Curtis Lazar’s turn to get prime-time attention as one of the top 16-year-old hockey players in the country.

Lazar caught up on school work for a few days and was back at practice Thursday afternoon at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton.

“My legs feel great; I feel energized,” said Lazar, a Vernon product who led Team B.C. to gold in Under 16 hockey at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax.

The hard-hitting, ultra-talented centre finished the Games with 12 goals and 17 points after pulling a hat trick in B.C.’s 7-4 final win over Quebec before a tourney record 10,500 fans at the Metro Centre. The game was also shown live on TV.

Lazar broke Stamkos’ tournament goals record and Crosby’s points mark.

“It was one of those tournaments where everything I touched was going in,” said the down-to-earth and highly mature Lazar. “It’s funny, I was telling my dad (Dave) I hadn’t scored like that since second-year Bantam. Most of the goals were high glove side so my shot was working.”

There was no time to hold a celebration last Friday night.

“Some of the guys wanted to walk around the hotel and show off their gold medals, but it was 11:45 so it was too late,” said Lazar. “Half the team got up at 5:30 and went for breakfast so they could show people their medals. I slept in.”

Lazar’s helmet has gone to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. So has Nicolas Petan’s (Delta) stick and Jackson Houck’s (North Vancouver) pants as B.C. won their first hockey gold since a group of Junior B players prevailed in 1979.

“I wished our coaches would have got medals,” said Lazar, always thinking of others. “You’re not going to find a better set of coaches. Russ (head coach Weber of Richmond) said, ‘We’re the Cadillac and they’re just test-riding.’ They kept us going. We watched a lot of video which really helped us.”

Lazar, who was the No. 2 pick in the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft last year, knew about Stamkos’ snipe record entering the final.

“It’s funny because I scored to put us up 6-4 and then with their net empty, Nic Petan hit the post. I jumped over the bench and scored the empty-netter so I guess it was meant to be. I didn’t know about Crosby’s points record. It’s something no one can ever take away from me.”

Weber had been using Lazar with Vancouver’s Sam Reinhart, a first-round draft of the WHL Kootenay Ice, and North Shore’s Petan, a Portland Winterhawk high draft.

Weber, a retired police officer changed things up and stuck Lazar with Vernon’s Cole Sanford and Matt Needham, Lazar’s hockey academy linemate for the gold-medal game.

The move paid off with Lazar, at 5-foot-11, 178 pounds, tossing some monster hits and getting the puck to the net. Needham, a Kamloops Blazer first-rounder, has great hockey sense, as does Sanford, a Medicine Hat Tiger prospect.

“I’m sure they have more than 180-degree vision,” said Weber. “Needham has got speed. He was probably a top-two skater on our team as far as flat out speed goes.”

Lazar, meanwhile, will finish out a four-team academy league playoff schedule and then join the Edmonton Oil Kings for the rest of the year.

His coach in Penticton, Robert Dirk, who was a rugged d-man who played 402 NHL games, including three full seasons with Vancouver, raves about the kid.

"He’s a very special player, obviously with what he did at the Canada Winter Games,” said Dirk. “Breaking records by Crosby and Stamkos is something else. He’s an all-around player. He has speed, power and skill and is a phenomenal kid. 

“Arguably, he’s among the top-five in his age group in all of Canada so if he stays the path, in two years, he could be a top-five or top-10 NHL pick.”

An Edmonton sports talk show this week mentioned Lazar’s leadership qualities. As captain of Team B.C., he asked teammates to watch their language as they greeted young fans.

“The real reason he’s so special is he’s so grounded, and the reason he’s so grounded is because his parents (mom Karen keeps track of four hockey-playing kids) are grounded,” said Dirk, whose son, Jagger, plays for Kootenay.

Lazar’s agent is J.P. Barry, whose Creative Artists Agency (CAA) also represents Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Dany Heatley, Shawn Horcoff and Anze Kopitar, just to mention a few NHL stars.