A very memorable draft day for northern talent
by Randy Pascal
If "AAA" hockey in Northern Ontario is broken, someone forgot to tell the 2003 boys.
Enjoying one of the best draft days for the north in a long, long time, the crew of NOHA talent were led by a pack of nine Sudbury Minor Midget
Wolves who would be selected Saturday in the 2019 OHL Entry Draft.
But it wasn't as though the good news was limited to just the Nickel City. Both North Bay and Sault Ste Marie can boast first round draft choices today
thanks to goaltender Ben Gaudreau (North Bay Midget "AAA" Trappers - #7 overall to Sarnia Sting) and defenceman Jack Matier (Soo
Thunderbirds Minor Midgets - #21 overall to Ottawa 67's.
Four picks later, the floodgates of Wolves' talent began their day-long celebrations, kicked off when Chase Stillman (son of Sudbury Wolves' head
coach Cory Stillman) was nabbed 25th overall, early in round two, by the hometown Wolves.
Max McCue (London Knights - 2nd round - #34), Zacharie Giroux (Flint Firebirds - 3rd round - #57) and Mitchell Martin (Kitchener
Rangers - 4th round - #81) would all follow well before the halfway point of the draft.
"To be honest, I thought it was going to be Ottawa, they seemed to have a lot of interest in me," stated McCue, en route to London to meet with team
brass and take in a second round playoff game Sunday, with the Knights battling the Guelph Storm.
"But London also had a lot of interest. They said they liked my style, that I would fit in well with their puck-possession style of game. Once they
selected me, I was obviously pretty excited."
"I think they're the best organization in the league for developing players to take that one step further to go to the NHL, whether you look at Mitch
Marner, Matthew Tkachuk, Christian Dvorak. There's a bunch of names that they have developped into becoming NHL pros. I'm really honoured to go there
and work on my game and hopefully take that next step."
Captain of the team that represented the NOHA at the OHL Cup, McCue already has his game plan in place for a busy summer that lies ahead. "Every part of
my game I'm going to need to get better at if I want to succeed at the next level," he said.
"For me, it's mostly my first three strides, my explosiveness. When I have the puck at the offensive blueline, just keeping my options open when I drive
to the net, whether it's looking to pass or shoot, but don't stop."
Much like McCue, Zacharie Giroux might have been forgiven for looking away from the computer screen when his name actually popped up. "Flint was one of
12 teams that did not call me," admitted the younger brother of Saginaw Spirit team captain Damien Giroux.
"I was shocked, honestly, to see my name with Flint's pick." And though there was clearly some family hope that the two siblings might be reunited in
Saginaw, Zacharie is anxious to begin a Michigan rivalry that will allow U.S.-based OHL fans to compare the natives of Valley East.
"We both don't like losing," he said. "We don't like losing a battle, a faceoff, all of those little things. We both work hard off the ice. We're similar
]in that we have the same mindset of what we want to do off the ice."
"But I think I am more of a guy who likes to be in the physical game, being a little more in the corners." Listed at just 5'3", the size disadvantage
creates the need to compensate with body positioning, yet another aspect of his game that Zacharie shares with his older brother.
"I have to make sure that my knees are always bent, that I have the low ground," he noted. "If I bend my knees and I go in there ready to battle, I don't
think I should lose a battle to a taller guy."
Though the brother-to-brother bond is a tight one, there is little doubt that the gloves come off, figuratively speaking, when the Giroux' step on the
ice donning non-matching uniforms. "Last summer, we played in a league against each other," recalled Zacharie.
"It was a little competitive. It was getting heated between me and him. It's definitely hard to play against him. I need to make sure I'm aware when
he's on the ice, because he makes the game a lot harder."
By contrast to his two afore-mentioned teammates, Mitchell Martin sensed the home of the Rangers could well be his final destination when the dust settled
on draft day. "I had a few tams that I knew took a special interest and Kitchener was one of them," said Martin.
"They called a couple of times and emailed me throughout the course of the season. They liked my goal scoring ability, and the good two-way defense at
both ends of the ice, and just my general offensive playmaking ability."
In a season in which eyes are glued to your every move from September to March, Martin acknowledged that it is not always easy to perform at the very top
of your capabilities in every single game.
"I thought that I showed pretty well at all of the big tournaments," he said. "I thought I played my best hockey at the tournaments. I think my stock fell
a bit through league play. I just couldn't really find my groove in the league - but I think it was more important to get it done in the tournaments, and I
was happy with where I went."
In fact, like most who would see their names displayed on the OHL website on Saturday, Martin is certainly relieved that this part of the journey has
ended. "I was just telling my dad that it literally felt like a hundred pound weight off my shoulders," he said.
That said, the next phase of the journey begins almost immediately. "Starting this week, I'll be back on the ice, shooting on goalies, doing skill
sessions, and three to four days a week in the gym."
"I workout with Brock McGillis, he helps me out a lot. He's my biggest inspiration in the game." Rounding out the list of Minor Midget Wolves to
be selected were:
Joshua Kavanagh - 5th round - Peterborough Petes (#93)
Cameron Walker - 9th round - Kingston Frontenacs (#164)
Devon Savignac - 9th round - North Bay Battalion (#171)
Chris Innes* - 12th round - Sarnia Sting (#229)
Bradley Brunet - 13th round - Niagara Ice Dogs (#259)
* Innes started the season with the Minor Midget Wolves, but closed out the year playing with the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves
Others with local ties included forward Oliver Smith, who competed with the bulk of the Wolves noted above at the All-Ontario Peewee "AAA"
Championships in Sudbury before heading south to play in his Minor Bantam year.
Smith, who suited up with the Mississauga Rebels this year, was selected in the ninth round by the Barrie Colts.