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An off-ice Sudbury connection at Hockey Canada U17 Development Camp

From a player's perspective, Jacob Burton could see the writing on the wall.

Sure, he could play out his days of junior hockey, perhaps even aspiring to hopefully catch on with a university team within the U Sport ranks.

But as a lover of all things hockey, there was an alternative route that awaited the local product, one which has paved the way for an incredible experience for the soft-spoken 23 year-old.

After bouncing between Wellington, Kitchener, Elmira and St Thomas for a little over a year in pre-Covid times, Burton was more than ready to examine other options.

"I decided to come home and really figure out what I wanted to do," said the recent graduate of the Sports Administration program at Laurentian University.

Being back in Sudbury opened the door to some very natural involvement with the OHL Wolves, offering his services wherever possible much in the same way that so many who have ascended to higher ranks in the game had done.

"I would do time on ice or any little job they had for me - and it kind of grew from there," said Burton, who earlier this summer served as the Video Coach at the Hockey Canada Under-17 Development Camp in Calgary.

With this family, the love of the game is never in doubt.

"My grandfather who played professionally for a good portion of his life was influential," said Burton. "I watched a lot of hockey with him. And even as a player, I was pretty strong at seeing the ice and seeing things develop."

"When it came time to make a decision, I felt that there weren't a lot of junior hockey players who got involved in the other side of the game."

Such was the passion to pursue this path that Burton would somehow find a way to balance the time-demanding role as the Wolves' video coach, accompanying the team for most if not all of their road trips, with the academic demands of a line of study that he would finish one year early thanks to back to back summers of university enrollment.

Three years later, there are no regrets.

"With that role came the opportunity to work with the players and coaches and management and get a better understanding of what goes on with Hockey Operations," said Burton.

"I love to learn and I think that every single person involved with the Wolves, the OHL, or any facet of hockey, there is always something you can learn from them. You meet so many different people in so many different capacities."

"It's been really exciting for me."

Truth is that it's not always easy to be the youngster trying to cut his teeth in a world where respect is sometimes doled out based on the level of hockey to which you had progressed in your playing days (debate among yourselves whether that is right or wrong).

"I think my head was in the right place going into it - I really do a lot of listening," said Burton. "It was relatively easy. Whether it was Cory Stillman or Darryl Moxam or Zack Stortini or Craig Duncanson, it was very much a welcoming room."

"As a younger person, being able to sit in the room with them is an honour. Being able to listen, I gained a lot of insight."

Burton is, quite honestly, unsure of exactly what comes next. That said, he is firmly committed to the process.

"I've always believed that opportunities will find people," he suggested. "It's been exciting, growing professionally and as a person while going through school. A lot of people will do their school and then get into the game after that, where I wanted to do it together."

The support of both those involved with the SPAD program at L.U. as well as Wolves' general manager Rob Papineau and the entire crew with the OHL team has been invaluable in helping Burton to this stage.

"I think it's all been really helpful for my development," said the young man who likes to keep his options open. "I don't think video is the only thing I can do."

Could some form of work in team management, somewhere in the world of hockey, be in the cards?

"If I was ever given that opportunity, that would be really awesome," said Burton. One needs to look no further than Lasalle Secondary graduate, fellow SPAD alumnus and current Chicago Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson to believe in the dream.

As he prepared to leave for Calgary, aware of the possibilities of expanding his already impressive spectrum of hockey contacts, Jacob Burton did so with the mindset that has served him well to date.

"When you get there, you have to be really open-minded to doing whatever they need you to do," he said. "I'll be doing whatever I can to help the team be successful."

Given that team success often equates to individual success - or vice-versa - that's a very a good thing.

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