‘I don’t take it for granted whatsoever’

Notre Dame Hounds defenceman Cody Lehner (4) says the small, family-like atmosphere that Notre Dame affords him has been an important factor in the support system he’s found at the school. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

P.A. native grateful to captain Notre Dame Hounds hockey team

Nearing the end of their regular season in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, the Notre Dame Hounds sit in first spot, with only three total losses – one in regulation time and two in overtime.

The Hounds have compiled an impressive 34 wins out of 37 games this year against the league’s eleven other teams.

An important part of that success has been the play of their captain, Cody Lehner, who’s from Prince Albert.

Cody grew up playing in the city’s minor hockey system, including a stint with the city’s AA peewee team, which he says helped shape his game, showing him what it takes to compete at the game’s higher levels.

Now in his senior year with the Hounds and in grade 12 at Athol Murray College, Lehner says he’s grateful to have been chosen to captain the Notre Dame squad, a position that comes with a high degree of prestige and honour.

Located about 50 kilometres south of Regina, Athol Murray College of Notre Dame sits in the tiny village of Wilcox. Founded in 1920 by Father Athol Murray, the private boarding high school has roots in the Catholic tradition, is open to students of all religious backgrounds and has come to be known as one of North America’s top hockey preparation schools.

Graduates of Notre Dame’s male hockey program who’ve established careers in the NHL include Rod Brind’Amour, Morgan Reilly, Jaden Schwartz, Wendel Clark, Lyndon Byers, Vincent Lecavalier and Braydon Coburn, among others.

For hockey, the school has two male Midget AAA teams (the Hounds and the Argos), a female Midget AAA Hounds team, a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League squad, plus five more hockey teams spread across both genders in the midget and bantam age groups.

On the phone Friday morning, Lehner was humble and hesitant to talk about himself, while being quick to speak about his teammates’ successes so far.

“We’ve got a few guys who are already committed to a few (United States) Division I college programs, and some have signed with WHL teams.”

On being selected by the team’s coaches – along with input from the Hounds players – as this year’s captain, Lehner said he’s grateful for the opportunity.

“It’s something that’s very special to me. I know I don’t take it for granted whatsoever. I know there are a lot of other people who would do whatever they could to be in this position,” the defenceman said.

“You want to represent yourself and the team and the school as best as possible. And be a good role model for kids that look up to you, and people that want to come here in the coming years, to just kind of set the standard for what it’s like here.”

His mother, Courtney, underscored that when Cody first learned of his selection to the captaincy, he urged her not to tell anyone.

“I said, ‘why don’t you want me to tell anybody?’ He said, ‘well it’s not something I want to brag about or anything. It’s an honour to wear the C, but I’m not goanna brag about it,’” she said.

“I’m obviously very, very proud. Especially when you look at some of the players that have worn the C there and have gone on in their careers,” she said.

For the start of high school, his first year at Notre Dame College, Cody moved away from his hometown, family and friends.

Though it was a hard sacrifice to see her son move more than four hours away, Courtney said she wasn’t surprised by Cody’s drive for pursuing his hockey dreams.

“He would never ask for toys for Christmas. He wanted mini-goalie pads or mini-goalie sticks, or chest protectors. It was always his passion and he took to it right away.

“He was very, very serious about it,” she said.

As for his play on the ice, Hounds head coach Devan Praught says the biggest asset Cody brings is his heart.

“That’s one of the tools you can’t measure. He’s the hardest worker in practice and in games, and he just buys into our team’s system,” Praught said. “You can’t put a price on heart.”

If the Hounds’ recent 2-0 win on Jan. 28 against the Prince Albert Mintos is any indication, Notre Dame’s defensive unit has played a key role in the hockey club’s accumulated wins.

As of Feb. 2, the Hounds have allowed the fewest goals this year (57 through 37 games) among the league’s 12 teams; and of the Hounds’ 34 wins, eight have been shutouts, while 11 have seen opponents muster only one goal.

For more on this story, please see the Feb. 3, 2018 print edition or e-edition of the Daily Herald.