Dreams Of Junior Hockey On The Line This Weekend

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Dreams of junior hockey on the line this weekend

The area inside the glass isn’t the issue. They’re comfortable there. That space is their home.

The challenge this weekend is going to be ignoring what’s outside the glass. Namely the 200-or-so scouts who’ll be watching every shift they take and making observations that could affect the rest of their hockey lives. Which is daunting stuff at any time, let alone when you’re just 15 years old.

“You know they’re there,” says Connor Murphy. “You see them. But when I’m playing I try not to notice.”

The Ancaster resident is the captain and offensive leader of the Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs’ minor midget AAA team that’s hosting the OMHA championships this weekend at the Mohawk 4 Ice Arena. With the puck, he’s magic. Not only is he very quick and incredibly shifty with great vision and creativity but scouts rave about his hockey IQ. He just gets the game.

That’s put him in a position where he’s almost certain to get drafted by an Ontario Hockey League team next month. Something he’s dreamt about for years.

Unless his side wins this tournament though, this weekend will likely be his final opportunity to make one last impression on those hordes of scouts which will include as many as five sets of eyes from all 20 OHL teams — not to mention many general managers — as well as a bunch from NCAA schools, the USHL, Tier II teams and possibly even a few NHL bird dogs.

These four, five or six games could be his only remaining chance to affect how high he gets selected and where he’ll be living for the next few years based on which team likes what they see.

“For sure,” says the Grade 10 Bishop Tonnos student whose hockey ability is trumped only by his unfailing politeness. “This could be the last time they get a look at us so the pressure’s on to have a good tournament.”

Same thing for David Eccles. A year ago, the imposing defenceman wasn’t even on the scouts’ radar. Heck, two years ago he was fighting just to make the AAA team after spending his earlier seasons in AA and even AE levels in Ancaster.

Now, after growing seven inches in the past year, the Ancaster Secondary student’s seen as the team’s other sure-fire prospect. Big and mobile with a touch of nasty, the head of OHL Central Scouting described him as the kind of player teams love.

“Those are the kind of players you win championships with,” Darrell Woodley says.

Eccles doesn’t pretend there’s no pressure on him this weekend. There is. Still, he says it really doesn’t bother him. In fact, he insists that seeing all those dozens of men with their team jackets and clipboards excites him because it makes him think about where he’s been and how crazy it is that he’s one of the guys they’re now watching.

He fights hard to appear stoic, but simply asking him about the possibility that he could be drafted causes him to lose the battle and break into a wide smile.

“I try to hide it sometimes but it’s hard to,” he says. “I never thought I’d really be here.”

They’re not alone. Every single guy on the team has worked to claw their way into the scouts’ discussion and shares the same dream of getting drafted. A handful probably will.

Over the past three years, 17 former Jr. Bulldogs have been called. A bunch are now making their way in the OHL. Last spring, Jarrod Maidens of the class of 2010 scored the championship-winning goal in overtime for Owen Sound.

The background proves to the teens that this dream isn’t like wishing to become king of England or winning $100 million in a lottery. This one is realistic. It really could happen. They just have to play well this weekend.

“Championships and playoffs are always important for a scout,” Woodley says. “They want to see players who play well under pressure.”

That means they somehow have to ignore the very people who hold their futures in their notebooks and just play the games of their lives. Then trusting they did enough.

And agonizingly waiting until draft day on April 7 to find out.

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