Liston keeping his head up

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Liam Liston is keeping his head up this summer.

The 18-year-old goaltender for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League didn’t have his name called during last weekend’s National Hockey League draft in Minnesota, but he knows there’s more than one way to make his big league dream come true.

“I was disappointed, but I’m not naive enough to think that’s the only way to play professionally,” he said, adding he plans to use the snub as motivation for the upcoming year. “It was disappointing, but it doesn’t really change the way I’m going to approach the next year.”

Liston suffered a concussion during the Wheat Kings’ run in the WHL playoffs, which ended in the first round against fellow St. Albert netminder Tyler Bunz and his Medicine Hat Tigers. He said he’s not sure just how much that injury affected his draft standing.

“I guess we’ll never know,” he said, noting he is symptom-free. “With such a young team, we had our ups and downs this year, and it was just a matter of people seeing me on the right day, or I guess the wrong day. But there are lots of opportunities left.”

In the days leading up to the draft, Liston was ranked ninth among North American goaltending prospects and said his stomach was definitely churning.

“I think it takes somebody who has been through it to know what it’s like,” he said. “It’s definitely stressful and you just try to take your mind off it the best you can.”

However, perhaps even more nerve-wracking was watching his former goaltending mentor in Brandon, Jacob DeSerres, backstop the Saint John Sea Dogs to a Memorial Cup title in Mississauga, Ont., in late May.

“There were a lot of questions going into it, whether he’d be able to handle it, bounding back from the year before,” he said, referring to Brandon’s 9-1 loss to the Windsor Spitfires in the 2010 championship game. “But, in my mind, there was no doubt. The guy is a consummate professional. He’s one of my best friends in hockey and I couldn’t be happier to see him get the result he got.”

Back in St. Albert for the offseason, Liston is training at Athletes Nation in Campbell Business Park and working to bulk up before the season begins.

“Just over-all strength. It sounds like a clichĂ©, but it’s a clichĂ© because it’s true,” he said. “Everybody at the next level is just bigger, faster, stronger, so you have to be able to cope with that.”

He plans to be back in Brandon for the start of next season and repay the support the organization and its fans gave him leading up to the draft.

“Our owner and GM, Kelly McCrimmon, has just been unbelievable and our entire coaching staff … has just been awesome,” he said. “They talked to me a lot leading up to the draft, what to expect. I got a call from Kelly on Monday and I know he was disappointed, maybe more than I was.”

Liston could sign as a free agent with any NHL club before Sept. 15. If still unsigned after that date, he is eligible to re-enter the draft.

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