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Some very interesting journeys for local OHL prospects

To some extent or another, every single OHL Entry Draft carries with it a particular set of angles and nuances when it comes to the Sudbury and area prospects who are fortunate enough to hear/see their name called/uploaded to one of the twenty franchises in the league.

The 2023 local pool, however, might well be far more unique than most.

In and of itself, the four-player grouping that featured defenceman Alex Valade (4th rd - Mississauga Steelheads) and forwards Cole Dubowsky (7th rd - Barrie Colts), Grant Booth (8th rd - Sudbury Wolves) and Max Campbell (12th rd - Erie Otters) would not rank as one of the deepest classes that Sudbury has ever seen.

Moreso, it is the route that these teenagers travelled that makes for some interesting copy.

It all starts with Alex Valade, the consensus pick as the top regional prospect this time last year, but a young man who suffered through a pair of untimely injuries, the last one keeping him out of the coveted OHL Cup playdowns in March.

"Near the end of the season, I was honestly unsure," said Valade, a grade 10 student at Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier. "I knew not going to the OHL Cup might affect me a little bit - but I talked to a lot of teams and a lot of them told me that the injury would not affect my draft that much, so I tried not to worry about it."

In the end, the underlying talent that has been there for one and all to see the past couple of years in particular served the 5'9" blueliner well. "I am very appreciative and happy of where I went," said Valade.

"I didn't expect it, but it's amazing. I am more than thrilled to get started."

What he brings to the table was evident even through the 24 games and tournament play in which he did see action. "I am a very quick puck-moving defenceman that likes to play physical," said Valade. "I have that grit to want to win every battle that I can."

"I want the puck - and I'll do whatever I can to get it."

When it comes to physical play, however, few can hold a candle to Cole Dubowsky, the 15 year-old winger who happily took on all comers, most of whom were older, in Great North U18 League action this winter.

Still, as his 26 points (12G-14A - 2nd best on team) stat-line would suggest, the junior at St Benedict Catholic Secondary School knows that he must have something of a well-rounded game to breakthrough to the next level.

"For me, that all stems from practice," said Dubowsky. "In practice, I really work on my skills: my shooting, my passing, all of the fancier parts of the game. Obviously you can't hit in practice, so that's eliminated, so I work on the other parts of my game."

One of those players who is admittedly not keen at being glued to the computer screen throughout the entire draft day, Dubowsky noted the range of emotions when dealing with a outcome that he could only dream about for the past few years.

"I was in the car when I got the call (from Barrie); I was at a loss for words," said Dubowsky. "I needed to get out of the house so I went for a drive with my brother. It was surreal. I think it really hit me later that night."

"I would flash back to all of my memories playing youth hockey, going to tournaments and hanging out with my buddies at the hotel. It was pretty cool."

Unless you followed local AAA hockey closely, it might have been easy to have Grant Booth slip past you as a Sudbury connection, given that he was drafted out of the Phoenix Jr Coyotes system.

But having played pretty much all of his life within the Sudbury Minor Hockey Association prior to his parents accepting work-related moves to Arizona last fall, Booth clearly meets the general guidelines of this grouping.

Still, it wasn't until he re-appeared in Sudbury recently, taking part in the RAC Hockey Development and Prospects Camp recently that Booth was more clearly seen as an option for OHL teams.

"Coming home these past couple of weeks helped my draft position bump up a little higher as people realized that I was this kid in Arizona who a lot of people did not know was eligible," said Booth, with Wolves' GM Rob Papineau certainly among the hockey folks that were very cognizant of his somewhat unique situation.

Mind you, there is something of a double-edged sword to the Booth file, with the 16 year old who is completing his current school year on-line having also drawn a fair bit of USHL interest along the way.

"Having both leagues interested is helping me because I can go either way," said Booth. That was only part of what he saw as benefits of his journey to the southwestern United States during the 2022-2023 hockey season.

"I got to see different styles of play, different coaching, just a different perspective on the game," said Booth. Still, there is something to be said for the place he calls home.

"Growing up in Sudbury, it's always a dream to play for your hometown team. I think that's really cool that I have a chance of doing that now."

In Max Campbell, the Otters get their hands on the leading scorer from the Sudbury U16 AAA Nickel Capitals this past year (13G-16A in 28 games).

True, he's a 5'7" centreman, but one who has displayed the ability to still find the room needed to make his mark while playing up a level or two.

Four distinct players - four distinct prospects - one local hockey community filled with pride.

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