By Scott Taylor
Photos by James Carey Lauder and Dylan Asmundson

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound, 16-year-old defenceman from Lorette was the No. 1 selection (fifth overall) of the Niverville Nighthawks in the 2022 Manitoba Junior Hockey League entry draft. He was also a player who has been on the radar of Coach Rob Smith and the RINK Hockey Academy for quite some time. And when it became apparent that Laliberte and his big shot, big body and big enthusiasm would be available to the RINK, Coach Smith snapped him up as quickly as he could. "He's a really nice, intriguing recruit for us," said Smith. 

"We're very happy to have him. There was a point this year when we didn't think we would get him and he's a kid we've wanted for a while. Smith knows how lucky he is to have Laliberte on his roster. Fact is, he was making a good push to crack the lineup of the Nighthawks as a 16-year-old, but when Niverville Coach and GM Kelvin Cech decided to send him back to U18 AAA, Smith made his pitch. "He was in the mix to stay in Niverville and that's why some of these recruiting efforts aren't determined as quickly as you'd like them to be determined," Smith conceded. "But we were persistent and as camp was winding down there, we ended up getting him." 

Smith and the RHA scouts like Laliberte for all the right reasons. "He had a really good year last year," Smith said. "He played U17 Eastman last season and he was in the Top 10 in scoring as a D-man. He was first among D-men. He also got glowing reviews from our players. "One thing I have come to learn is that your players are your best recruiters," Smith said. "They know more about the player than anyone. Whenever Avery's name came up, the boys had a lot of great things to say about him. He sounded like a great fit here so we went after him." Laliberte played all his minor hockey in Lorette and with Eastman and he comes by his work ethic honestly.

His father, Dan, owns a landscaping business, and his mom, Nadine, is a librarian. He decided to play for the RINK because he believes the coaching, the amenities and the experience will make him a better hockey player. "Everyone I've ever talked to has said good things about the RINK," he acknowledged. "Nobody I know who played here has ever said to me they didn't enjoy it. It's a great place and I like it a lot. Everyone here treats me so well and the guys on the team are great, too. I made the right choice to come here. "I'm also not in any rush to make a decision about my future in hockey," he added. "I'm 16, and I have lots of time. I don't want to commit to college or the WHL too early. I want to know that what I'm doing is the right thing. For now, I just want to get better."

Regardless of the fact he enjoys the RINK and everything it has to offer, he knows there is a chance he could be called up to the MJHL at any time. "I don't think I'd leave the RINK permanently this year," he said. "I'd like to play a few games in Niverville, but I'm settled in here pretty well, right now." Smith isn't worried about losing his big recruit, either. Although, history has shown that things could change at any moment. "He's committed for the year but as we all know, anything could happen," Smith admitted. "Right now, he's committed for the season. Niverville is likely going to want to get him up for a few games. When things like this happen, it also gives us an opportunity to get some players up with us." So, what is Smith's assessment of Laliberte's talent? "I'm still learning about Avery, but from what we've seen early this season, he's a two-way defenceman, he has good offensive instincts and moves the puck well," the coach said. "He's very heads- up and has a high hockey IQ. He's a guy who can contribute on the power play, but can also be very effective on the penalty kill. He's a very versatile player. That's what I see in his game right now. "He also has a bit of rawness to him. Big, raw players, when they come here and they're open to learning and getting better, they're going to get something out of this program. I'm excited about his future here just because of that."

Scott Taylor | Game On Magazine