Burrell standout Stewart surprises with return to varsity hockey team

Sunday, January 12, 2020 | 5:18 PM

After spending some time in the junior hockey ranks this season, Tyler Stewart made a surprise return to the ice for Burrell hockey last Monday.

What wasn’t a shock was his production.

Stewart, who was the PIHL scoring champion the last two years, netted six goals in his season debut, an 11-8 loss to Carrick, and he plans on being a factor for as long as he can.

He won’t be eligible to play in the playoffs, because he’ll fall short of the minimum number of required games played in the regular season. However, his addition to the lineup could help Burrell get into better position once the postseason arrives.

It’s been an interesting year for Stewart, who has played in Texas and Virginia, but the senior is happy to have one last opportunity to play for Burrell.

“It felt good putting the (Burrell) sweater back on again,” Stewart said. “I missed it. To be on the ice again in the town I grew up in is just special to me.”

Stewart had 50 goals in the regular season with Burrell last year and drew interest from various junior teams. He played seven games for the Odessa (Texas) Jackalopes of the North American Hockey League this season before suffering an injury. He said he was released after the injury.

“I took a really bad hit, and I was out for a while,” Stewart said. “They couldn’t really use me, so they just got rid of me.”

He had a brief two-game stint with the Hampton Roads (Virginia) Whalers of the United State Premier Hockey League before returning home to play for the Esmark Stars 18U travel team.

Upon returning home, Stewart said Burrell hockey president Dave Schueler reached out to him about potentially returning to the Bucs.

Aside from getting one last opportunity to play high school hockey, a couple of other factors made it an easy decision.

One was reuniting with good friend Gio Palombo, whom he shared a line with last season. Another was playing with younger brother Zach, who is a goalie on the Bucs.

“I’m a senior, and my little brother is a sophomore and we’re playing on the same team for the first time ever. That’s really cool,” Stewart said. “When he made a save, it was neat to skate up to my brother and say ‘nice save.’ I had never done that before.”

First-year Burrell coach Fred Neal never had seen Stewart play before Monday’s game, but he knew of his accomplishments the last couple seasons. Getting to see him in person provided a high-quality visual to what he had seen on paper.

“He scored six goals against at team that had allowed six goals in a game only once all season, so it was pretty impressive,” Neal said. “His skill and his ability to dominate are pretty deceptive out there, because he’s pretty calm. He does all the right things and has an unbelievable finish. He really knows how to get the puck into the net. It’s something you can’t really explain. You just have to watch him do it.”

Burrell (3-8) is tied with Wilmington for third place in the PIHL Class B North Division with six games remaining. Five of the six are against divisional opponents.

“It’s unfortunate that he won’t be eligible for the playoffs, but he’ll definitely help us get to a stronger position,” Neal said. “When we get to that point and he’s not able to come out and play with us anymore, hopefully we’ll have a better matchup in the first round compared to if he never came out and played.”

Stewart is hopeful to make a return to the junior hockey ranks for next year, but for now he’s happy to be home finishing his senior year.

“After this year, I plan on going back to play in the NAHL, whatever division I can get in — East or West, it doesn’t matter,” Stewart said. “Right now, I’m just trying to get my body stronger. I’m not thinking too much about next year, though. My focus is on playing for Esmark and doing the best job I can for Burrell.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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