NIPAWIN — With a never quit attitude, Jackson Fellner has persevered to be an impact player this season for the Nipawin Hawks.
Over the past two seasons, the Regina product has suited up for five teams in three leagues. This season Fellner played for two other squads before establishing himself as a top Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League goaltender. As of March 2, Fellner ranked in the top nine in the league in goals against average, wins, and shutouts.
“I have been faced with a lot of adversity in the past couple of years,” he said. “I’d say my dad [Robert] is the biggest reason I’ve kept going. He has always pushed me to keep going and never give up.”
Hawks head coach Tad Kozun praised Fellner for seizing the opportunity he has been given. Since joining the Nipawin squad, the 6-foot-2, 179-pound goaltender has 16 wins, a 3.05 goals against average, a .898 save percentage, and two shutouts. What has allowed him to succeed?
“I would say the opportunity that I am given,” Fellner said. “My coach, Tad Kozun, has been really leaning on me. He’s given me every opportunity to be successful and the team has helped me out a lot.”
When he first got into hockey, Fellner recalls being a defenceman. During a three-on-three tournament when he was seven or eight, his team’s goalie asked him if he wanted to don the pads.
“I loved it and I was good at it so I decided to switch. I’m sure my parents weren’t happy with me when I did that,” Fellner said with a laugh. “It was the right decision for me.”
He has had a passion for the position ever since. Fellner has really gotten into goalie strategy and the equipment and how to customize it. He does not shy away from the position’s pressure.
“Being the last line of defence, there is a lot of pressure – especially in big time games and close games,” he said. “I think I thrive in that environment.”
Fellner played his 16 and 17-year-old campaigns for the Battlefords Stars. In 2021-2022, he suited up for the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League and the SJHL’s Weyburn Red Wings. Fellner started this season with the Melfort Mustangs. He played one regular season game for that SJHL squad.
After that, Fellner’s friends encouraged him to play for the Junior B Regina Capitals of the Prairie Junior Hockey League. He was pleased to be teammates with friends such as Nolan Pankratz, Alex Hunt, and Hunter Wood. Fellner won both of the games he played for the Capitals. He posted a 0.48 GAA and a .981 save percentage, according to eliteprospects.com.
“Going to Junior B and playing a couple of games there, that kind of … got my confidence back after all that happened in the past year,” Fellner said.
While he was with the Capitals, Fellner said, “Tad gave us a call out of nowhere and I couldn’t say no.” The Hawks finalized a trade with the Mustangs, acquiring the goalie for a fourth-round draft pick, in late October.
Fellner had a strong start to 2023 for Nipawin. In January, he was named the league’s Goalie of the Week once and earned the Goalie of the Month honours. Fellner won five of his eight starts. He had a 2.38 GAA and a .914 save percentage.
In January, he earned his first SJHL shutout in a win over Melville. Fellner picked up his second league shutout in a February victory versus his former team, the Red Wings. Fellner said he wanted to prove to his ex-squad “that I’m here to play.”
Over the years, Fellner has tried to learn from the various coaches he has had. He believes it has helped him because “there are a lot of different perspectives on the game.”
Before this season, Fellner worked with Travis Harrington, who coaches at Notre Dame in Wilcox. With the Hawks, he has been mentored by Kelly Guard, who is the goaltending coach for the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders and was a consultant for Team Canada for its gold medal-winning 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship run. Of the duo, Fellner said “getting their perspectives helps me dial in my game and all around makes me better.”
When asked what he has enjoyed about playing for the Hawks, Fellner said, “pretty much everything. My billets, my teammates. They welcomed me with open arms as soon I got there. I gelled with those guys, I’d say, pretty fast. … We’re treated like gold in the community. Everything has been amazing.”
After two seasons of going from team to team, Fellner said, “I think I have found my home here. Yes, finally … I hope that Tad will keep believing in me like he did when I came in here and we can make a run in the playoffs.”