(Courtesy of Tyler Crayston, CKLQ Sports) -- Former Wheat Kings' defenceman Mark Louis has landed a National Hockey League contract and his time in the university ranks may prove to have been his launching pad.
The path to putting pen to paper with Phoenix went through the CIS with the St. Francis Xavier X-Men and it was time well spent.
"Obviously I really wanted to play pro after junior but the opportunities weren't there. Going to St. FX was the best decision ever in terms of my career," said Louis, who is in Brandon this week serving as one of the guest instructors at the Wheat Kings' annual Hockey School at Westman Communications Group Place.
"I think the CIS doesn't really get as much credit as it deserves," says Louis, who was one of many WHL graduates to take advantage of the league's attractive Scholarship Fund. "There are a lot of really good players that I feel can play pro but they're tied up with their studies or they have other interests. It's just a very underrated league and it prepared me for that next level."
One thing led to another for Louis after completing his third season with St. FX in February.
It started with a pro tryout, an AHL deal with the Portland Pirates, joining the Coyotes' practice roster for the NHL playoffs and then inking a one-year contract.
The Ponoka, Alberta product played in 23 AHL games, where he had four assists and 72 penalty minutes.
"It really means a lot to be rewarded for anything in life when you work hard," added Louis. "It's definitely not the easiest route to take and not the most taken route for that matter."
Louis played most of his Western Hockey League career in Brandon, having joined the Wheat Kings in the fall of 2003. A former fifth round bantam draft choice, he scored ten goals, 50 points and accumulated 379 penalty minutes in 303 career WHL games.
If he's able to reach the NHL, then it has been a route worth taking.
"I think it's a big time chance this fall and that's the goal. I think what it comes down to is just how bad you want it and obviously I want to get there."
Louis and the Coyotes NHL camp gets underway in September.
The WHL Scholarship is fully guaranteed for every season a player participates in the WHL, he is entitled to a full year of tuition, textbooks and compulsory fees to a post-secondary institution of his choice.