Ask Rockets head coach Adam Foote about his thoughts on Mark Liwiski, and he’ll tell you that the forward plays an old school style of game.
Foote’s not wrong, Kelowna’s ‘Little Ball of Hate’ is a nightmare for other teams to deal with. He shows up in all ends of the ice and plays both power play and penalty kill minutes, often with an edge that’s hard for teams to handle.
“He’s so old school, and he plays the game so hard,” Foote said. “He puts the work in and I think that leads us and leads our game. At the highest level, you have to have not just the skill but the work ethic, and he gives us everything every night.”
Liwiski ticked all of the boxes when Rockets president and general manager, Bruce Hamilton acquired the then 16-year-old from the Everett Silvertips in the summer of 2018 in exchange for the Rockets third-round pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft.
“We felt that he brought a physical presence and his speed was something intriguing to us, simply because we felt as our team was changing to get bigger we felt that we needed someone with some speed that we could use in different roles,” Hamilton said. “Most importantly, he plays to bother people and be a bit of a pest at times, so far he has lived up to those expectations. We’re waiting for his offensive side of the game to come around which we think it will.”
The Dauphin, MB product had just finished putting together a 25 point (14G, 11A) campaign together in 36 games along with 95 penalties minutes with the OCN Blizzard of the MJHL when the trade took place. He had snuck into ten games with the Silvertips collecting nine penalty minutes.
“I was super excited for a fresh start with a great organization when Bruce gave me the call. I was more than pumped to come here, I’ve enjoyed every minute here since then. There’s no other place I’d like to be other than Kelowna, I want to win a Memorial Cup here and finish my Western Hockey League career with the Rockets,” said Liwiski.
The Tips originally drafted Liwiski during the third round (No. 58) at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. In 35 games with the Parkland Rangers Bantam AAA (WBAAA), he had a 91 point season and 114 penalty minutes to go along with it.
Growing up in the prairies, he often played against and at one point on the same team as Adam Herold, one of the players who lost his life in the Humboldt Broncos accident. If you take a look at Liwiski’s sticks, they’re all marked with an AH in honour of Adam.
When he was younger he found an NHL player to look up to, as a Flames fan he decided that legendary captain Iggy was the guy he wanted to grow up to be like.
“I feel like as you’re growing up, you find some players that play your type of way and you should watch them to model your style of play after. A guy I liked and model my game after for work ethic and what not was Jarome Iginla when Calgary was my favourite team. I took his style of play and tried to copy it. As I levelled up through the years, because bantam isn’t the same as the western hockey league, I was more of one of those guys that was told to bring it every game and I did just that.”
When asked how he added in the sandpaper style to his game, he says that he has naturally always played like that.
“I think I’ve always been a feisty player, even when I was younger I really liked to get in peoples faces. Growing up through bantam to midget to here now I like being that guy, I like being the pest in your face. It’s what I bring to the team, I don’t plan on stopping it anytime soon.”
Liwiski learned throughout his rookie season last year how to play with an edge, but not allow the momentum to shift in the other team’s favour by dropping the gloves at the wrong time.
“I kind of figured it out game by game last season. Coming into this league as a 17-year-old, there are always guys that will ask you first shift if you want to go, but you have to learn how to say ‘you aren’t worth my time’ and move on.”
You can watch Kelowna’s ‘Little Ball of Hate’ on a line alongside Michael Farren and Alex Swetlikoff, often referred to as the energy line. The trio can be a handful for other teams to contain as they all play an in your face style of game.
You can meet Mark Liwiski and the rest of the Rockets this Sunday. Bring a donation of a non-perishable food item for the Kelowna Food Bank to attend the CIBC Family Skate on Sunday, January 12, 2020, from 1:30 PM to 3:00 PM at Prospera Place. The entire Rockets team and Memorial Cup will be on hand to take photos. Please note: There will be no skate rentals or skate sharpening on site.