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Westlake Village native, Titans grad Courtnall earning respect at WMU

 

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His roles may have changed over the years, but several things remain constant with Lawton Courtnall – his attitude, his acceleration and his consistency.

So it’s no accident that the former California Titans forward again is playing a vital part for a ranked Western Michigan hockey team.

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“He just comes to work every day,” said Broncos coach Andy Murray, who coached more than 700 NHL games, including six seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. “I think he’s played every game but two in his college career. You want that kind of consistency.

“He’s a player who’s got a smile on his face every day when he comes to the rink. He comes in and works hard.”

Courtnall, a senior from Westlake Village, said his sunny disposition was enhanced by the opportunity to play in California growing up.

“Playing hockey in Southern California is just awesome,” Courtnall said. “There are great venues to play at. Warming up outside when it’s 85 degrees instead of it snowing is awesome.”

Courtnall’s skill set and adaptability have made him even more valuable at WMU.

“He’s playing a lot for us now,” Murray said. “He plays 4-on-4 for us. When we’re 3-on-3 in overtimes, he’s out there. He’s earned the respect of our team.

“He uses his strongest asset, which is his speed, to his advantage. He’s got great speed, just like his dad. He makes good decisions with the puck. From Day 1, he’s always been a great penalty killer because he has the ability to put pressure on the puck.”

If Lawton’s last name rings a bell, it should. Both his father Russ and his uncle Geoff played more than 1,000 NHL games. Their influence started him on his hockey journey.

“My dad was definitely the reason why I got into the sport in the first place,” Lawton said. “It was awesome having him as my coach when I was younger. He was always a little harder on me than other players because I was his son, but that helped me.

“He helped me with my skating a lot – that was the main thing. The game has changed so much, it’s so much faster and the best players can really fly, so that was really important. He was really dedicated helping me with my speed, my edgework.”

When Courtnall, who cited Titans coach Luc Beausoleil as another influence, emerged from California, he was a top-line player who could score in a multitude of ways. When he reached juniors and then WMU, he realized he needed to round out his game.

“The staff (at WMU) has worked with me on the details, correcting all those little things,” Courtnall said. “They helped me a lot on both sides of the puck, but especially defensively.

“My speed is my main thing,” Courtnall said. “That’s what I base my game on. I’m hard defensively and I like playing on the PK. I want to be hard to play against on both sides of the puck. I had to change my game, but now I think I can play on any line, any situation.”

That Courtnall would fare so well on the big stage of college hockey is no surprise when one considers his family background beyond his father’s 16-year NHL career.

His mother Paris is an accomplished actress and daughter of jazz legend Sarah Vaughn.

His older sister Ally won an NCAA soccer title at UCLA and also ran track for the Bruins. She’s also represented Team Canada in track.

And younger sister Brooklyn also is a soccer and track standout who is committed to UCLA.

“Lawton’s got a great family background,” Murray said. “His mom Paris and Russ were both very successful in their fields. He had great examples.”

Courtnall is focused on helping Western Michigan return to the NCAA Tournament and finishing his business degree, which he is on track to receive in the spring. Beyond that? Anything is possible.

Courtnall has attended NHL prospects camps with the Kings and Columbus. He has elite skating ability and excels at a niche that not many players are able to.

“He’s become a player I certainly think has pro potential in his future,” Murray said. “That’s a testament to Lawton and his hard work.”

Photo/Western Michigan Athletics

— Chris Bayee

(Jan. 8, 2020)