Orendorff and Associates
Toppers Pizza
Auto Depot - Sudbury
Pharand and McCue account for local content in OHL Entry Draft - 2021
(picture not found)

Let's call it a case of quality over quantity.

While only two local players were selected during the 2021 OHL Entry Draft held this past Friday/Saturday, Alex Pharand would become the first area player since 2006 to be taken in the opening round, chosen by the Hamilton Bulldogs, 14th overall.

After a stretch that would see two Sudbury products crack the top twenty in a span of three years - Vern Cooper (13th overall - Plymouth Whalers - 2006) and Cory McGillis (7th overall - Windsor Spitfires - 2004) - it's been something of a drought in these parts when it comes to first rounders.

Pharand, a 6'2" centerman who skates very well and enjoys a nicely balanced game, with plenty of high end offense skill and an attention to detail when he doesn't have the puck, remained cautiously optimistic, even as his name was being bandied about as far back as a year ago or more.

"It's never a 100% certain until your name is called," said Pharand. "I knew that Hamilton was in my range, mid to late first round, somewhere in there. I wouldn't say that I was surprised, but I was very honoured and excited to get selected by Hamilton."

In fact, it sounds like Pharand and the Bulldogs had already gotten a bit of a head start in terms of establishing a relationship that they see as having win-win potential over the course of the next four to five years.

"I had a Zoom call with their GM (Steve Staois) about two to three weeks before the draft, and that went super well," noted the 16 year-old grade 11 student at College Notre-Dame.

"We stayed in contact and they seemed to like me more and more, and I liked them more and more. I was starting to get to know the team and the organisation. I like the people that are there, the success of the team - and they have a great facility."

In a winter where prospects were limited in terms of opportunities to showcase their on-ice abilities, the traditional pre-draft interviews may have taken on even greater importance, seemingly a bonus for a thoughtful and well-spoken young man such as Pharand.

"I would say that I talked to about 18 of the 20 teams in an official interview," he said. "My first ones, I was just getting used to it, the questions were pretty new. As they went on, I did better; my answers got more complete, I felt more comfortable."

"I do believe that it's a big part of the draft process, having a good interview. You're just trying to get them to know you as a person, the person you are off the ice and not just the player on the ice."

"You have to be yourself in the interviews," added Pharand. "If you start trying to make-up stuff that doesn't really describe you, I don't think that's the way to go. I talked about the attention to detail, I talked about the importance of family and school."

Many were the chats with his representatives from Top Shelf Sports Management, who Pharand credited him with guiding him through a process that can be stressful, even for those picked at the top of the draft.

Beyond that, there was plenty of support closer to home, including his parents, Marc Pharand and Nancy Cote-Pharand.

"My dad used to play," stated Alex. "He didn't go too far, but he was a good player. When I was young, after games, we would talk, a lot of positive talk, helping me improve."

"He would come on the backyard rink a lot with me, for hours and hours, feeding me pucks in my skates, practicing deflections and one-timers."

And then there is the young man who is rapidly gaining a local reputation as the go to in terms of character and professionalism for young hockey talent.

"More recently, I was on the ice a fair bit with Damien Giroux," said Pharand. "I really look up to him. He's such a good person off the ice - and he's one of those guys that pays attention to details like no others."

"It's crazy."

On the crazy draft day that was on Saturday, only forward Sam McCue managed to join Pharand, locals who made the final list of selections, taken off the board in round seven by the Peterborough Petes.

McCue, who opted to play down south this past winter, experienced the draft as most others do, having to see a certain number of names slide by before their big moment.

"I was pretty comfortable, going in, but as the rounds go by and you don't hear your name, it's a little nerve-wracking," said the 15 year old left winger. "Once you hear your name, you kind of jump up in excitement and enjoy the moment."

In the process, Sam became the second member of the family to enjoy that feeling in the past three years, with older brother Max currently a member of the London Knights after he was chosen in the second round of the 2019 draft.

"He's a really good skater, especially with his edge work," noted Sam, providing a quick comparison with his sibling. "I'm a good skater too, but when it comes to edge work, I'm not as good as him."

"I need to improve on that. I have a scoring touch and he has more of a playmaking ability. He doesn't like to shoot a lot and I love shooting the puck."

As for summer preparation, McCue, like most of the other draftees, is simply trying to make the best of a situation that is less than ideal. "I'm training five times a week in the gym, and rollerblading, because there's no ice - working on my stride."

"I'm just going to try and stay in shape and do my best this summer."

Battling the odds in terms of cracking the roster as a 7th round OHL freshman, McCue is not about to paint himself into a corner with regards to exactly where he will continue his development in 2021-2022.

"I think that playing down south, near Peterborough, either in junior of even major midget AAA is a good option," he said. "I haven't given it much thought yet - but if you're playing in Peterborough, it helps you get seen a little more by your team, maybe get called up for practices or maybe a few games."

One other local connection in the draft as former Sudbury Wolves' forward and SMHA product Andy Paquette would see his son, Charlie (Paquette), follow in his footsteps, selected in the 2nd round by the Guelph Storm.

In total, there were only three other players from northern Ontario who would hear their names called this year:

Cooper Foster from Sault Ste Marie - 2nd round - Ottawa 67's
Austin Fellinger from Sault Ste Marie - 11th round - Soo Greyhounds
Kaedyn Long from North Bay - 13th round - North Bay Battalion
Sudbury Wolves