Just like so many Canadians, Mark Liwiski grew up playing the game of hockey, with a goal of making to the big stage.
In his hometown of Dauphin, Manitoba, his first taste of competitive hockey came in the 2014-15 season when he was just 13-years-old and he played for the Parkland Bantam Rangers. He quietly went about his business and put up 36 points (17G) in the process.
The next season, Mark was nearly unstoppable. He had 91 points (39G) in just 37 games. It was after that season when Mark was drafted in the third round, 58th overall by the Everett Silvertips. Everett brought him in during the 2017-18 season, where he played in 10 games before returning to Manitoba.
He would join the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s OCN Blizzard, a spot where he had 28 points in 42 games.
He didn’t stay in his home province for long.
The Everett Silvertips made him the 58th pick at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. Then in June of 2018, the ‘Tips traded Liwiski to the Kelowna Rockets. Overall, he had a pretty solid first full season in the WHL, with 17 points (11G) in 60 games during the 2018-19 campaign.
Now as the 2019-20 season approaches, Mark is back out west with the Rockets for his second full season with the team. Mark has been working all summer so that he can play a bigger role on a team that will host the Memorial Cup.
“The off season was all about preparing for me so I did a ton,” said Liwiski. “Back in Dauphin, I was training with my trainer and my brother a ton. I also went to Winnipeg and skated at the Rink Hockey Academy four times a week. I feel like I came into camp in really good shape and I’m ready for the long grind.”
Among Mark’s highlights in his first season with Kelowna, last year was on December 1, when he was named the “Teddy Bear Man”. He scored the team’s first goal against Saskatoon, which meant the fans flooded the ice with teddy bears.
With 70 games now under his belt in the WHL, Mark knows what it takes to have success.
“I feel every day is just a battle, it’s the WHL,” said Liwiski. “You have to take care of your body at all times. I also play with a lot of physicality, so that’s what I have to do. I need to go to the net and create chances for our team. If I do that, I think I’m on pace for a breakout season.”
Being only 18-years-old, Mark has been presented with a pretty unique opportunity and one that not many major junior players get. Kelowna will host the 102nd KIA Memorial Cup from May 22-31, 2020 at Prospera Place.
That means Kelowna will play during the final week of the season, regardless of how the team does in the regular season or playoffs. With that said, Mark could also be in a tricky spot.
You see teams often trade younger players for veterans who have either played in a national championship before or have a ton of experience at the major junior level.
Mark knows he just can’t take anything for granted.
“I think it’s just about taking things day-by-day,” said Liwiski. “It’s a long season. I just need to take care of myself and show what I can do out there and I’ll be fine. Playing in Kelowna is great and it’ll be an honor to take part in the Memorial Cup.”
The preseason for Mark and the team continues and wraps up this weekend. They play a home-and-home with the Kamloops Blazers starting on Friday at the Sandman Centre. The two clubs will hook up 24 hours later at Prospera Place.
After that, the team gets a full week of practice before they open the regular season on home ice against the Spokane Chiefs on Saturday, September 21. Three of the team’s first five games through October 2 come at Prospera Place.
Mark’s 17 points were eighth in team scoring last year. This year, Kyle Topping, Nolan Foote, and Leif Mattson are expected to return and they combined for 195 points last season (81G) On the back end, Kaedan Korczak will also be back after putting up 33 points (4G). Add Kyle Crosbie and Alex Swetlikoff who both have four points in the preseason, among others and Mark has a great feeling about this year.
“I feel like we made some big trades in the off season and we’re looking solid,” said Liwiski. “We’re going to have a good team this year and there’s no doubt that we’re pushing to win the WHL first and we’ll worry about the Memorial Cup when we get there.”
Shortly after the playing of the Memorial Cup, Liwiski will be waiting to hear his name called. He’s eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft which will take place in Montreal. If he achieves his goal of a career year, being picked at the draft could be on the way.
“This is a massive year for myself. I need to make a statement right off the bat here to all the scouts and everything,” concluded Liwiski.
“All eyes are going to be on us because we’re hosting the nationals, so I have to give it my all and show what I can do.”