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Ottawa 67′s No. 1 pick Travis Konecny arrives super prepared for a long road to success

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Travis Konecny of Clachan, Ont., pulls on an Ottawa jersey on Friday (Contributed photo)

Even the way Travis Konecny put the jersey on looked polished, without looking practised.

He know the drill. Off comes the suit jacket. Slip the left arm into the sleeve. Doff the team cap so the jersey doesn't get snagged on the brim. Slip the right arm into the other sleeve. Put the cap back on. Accept warm applause from the adults who have staked their rep as hockey men on you becoming a cornerstone for the next competitive Ottawa 67's team.

It all speaks to how being part of the new cottage industry that builds up hockey players long before their NHL draft year means taking care of every last detail. Don't set off any red flags. The 16-year-old Konecny seemed totally in tune with knowing one could pass through 10,000 lifetimes without getting the treatment he had on Friday, when the 67's introduced their No. 1 overall pick in a small conference room at the City of Ottawa archives. (The location was a reminder of how the club is halfway through its '68 road games for the 67's' phase where it practises at one rink and then plays at Scotiabank Place, home of the NHL's Ottawa Senators.)

Konecny still radiated a little teenage nervousness, but not so much. That shows the investment his proud parents Rob and Terri Konecny made in helping their son become The Prospect looks to be worth every penny.

Like 2012's top OHL pick, Erie Otters centre Connor McDavid, Travis Konecny accelerated his athletic and emotional development by attending the PEAC Academy. McDavid attended its Toronto-area campus. The 5-foot-10, 165-pound centre from the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs midgets was part of the first class at it London, Ont., campus, where tuition is $17,500 per year. Sending a boy to a hockey academy that's geared toward hockey players — and has an 8:1 student/teacher ratio — is part of what it takes these days.

"It's had a huge impact on my playing career," says Konecny, whose first official act in 67's jesey was posing for a photo on Parliament Hill. "They understand the players. If you have to work a deal with homework because you have a tournament, they understand but you still have to keep your grades up. Also, on the ice, every morning, they're all about getting stronger.

"You roll in about 8 o'clock in the morning, sit in the dressing room for a few minutes and talk about your game the night before. Then you put on the workout gear to work out for a hour. Two classes after that. Instead of recess, we go on the ice and work on skills. Then two more classes and you wrap up the day there."

On top of that, there's the schedule of a midget AAA player. Hockey parents in Ontario have been known to say their travel itinerary actually goes down once their sons leave home to play in the OHL, since AAA teams in rural areas such as Elgin-Middlesex often go all over the countryside for practices and games.

"You're always on the road and you can't start your homework until later because you're always on the road. So PEAC is a good experience for the kids who go there. You see a lot of kids come in there and leave a lot more mature."

For the Konecnys, who live on a 53-acre farm in Clachan, Ont., it was part of helping the youngest son learn to strive for the top, although not necessarily just in hockey. (Their eldest son, 17-year-old Chase Konecny, is headed to the prestigious University of Waterloo to study electrical engineering and has competed in hurdles at the OFSAA provincial high school athletics championships.)

"The first thing that Terri and I realized is that he had become very efficient in his time management," Rob Konecny said. "It was quite a process for Travis to do his commute every morning, get through his workouts, his on-ice, club team hockey and things like that.

"Not only do they do they compete and push each other physically in training and on-ice, but in school, everyone does the same thing. They don't want to have the lowest mark. It kept him going, it kept him focused ... From that and the skill side, it's been great."

Rob Konecny smiled slightly when the PEAC price tag would give severe sticker shock to everyday people, even journalists still paying off student loans from their decade-ago university days.

"Travis has been very lucky," he said. "He's had a huge support network and we're not sure how it came about. On the hockey side, he's had so many great people."

It's all part of why the 67's believe Travis Konecny's will to win should rub off on a young team. Ottawa finished dead last this season after coach-GM Chris Byrne and owner Jeff Hunt saw the writing on the wall in November and decided to hold a fire sale. They sent defenceman Jake Cardwell to the Belleville Bulls before moving Ottawa Senators-drafted D-man Cody Ceci and wing Steven Janes to the Owen Sound Attack. The biggest return was 17-year-old defenceman Jacob Middleton, who earned all-rookie team recognition from the OHL.

The 67's reasoning is that Konecny is grounded enough to understand Rome was not rebuilt in a day.

"I'm really excited to be part of the rebuild stage," says Konecny, who has been praised for being both speedy and shifty and equally capable of finishing off scoring opportunities or creating them for linemates. "I'm just another piece of the puzzle."

Related to a top prospect

Travis is a second cousin of London Knights centre Bo Horvat, who is a potential NHL first-round choice.

"I followed him through the draft and through the London Knights organization," the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Konecny says. "It's neat to see him go through it."

67's coach-GM Chris Byrne noted the organization will be careful "not to put expectations" on Konecny as a rookie. Going first overall will carry enough expectations as it is. The last two top picks, the Erie Otters centre Connor McDavid and Barrie Colts defenceman Aaron Ekblad, were exceptional-status 15-year-olds who went on and captured the OHL rookie-of-the-year honours. Four of the previous six No. 1s — Alex Galchenyuk (2010), Ryan O'Reilly ('07), Steven Stamkos ('06) and John Tavares ('05) — went on to go directly from the NHL draft floor to The Show at age 18.

The other two, John McFarland ('08) and Daniel Catenacci ('09), merely became second- and third-round NHL picks — still good, but nowhere near greatness. Catenacci, a Buffalo Sabres pick, has had a commendable four-year OHL tenure with Sault Ste. Marie and Owen Sound. McFarland is in his first pro season in the Florida Panthers organization, where he has shuffled between the AHL and ECHL.

Learn from Monahan

The 67's direction next season hinges heavily on whether star centre Sean Monahan, who does not seem far from NHL-ready, plays a fourth OHL season. On Friday, Monahan phoned Konecny to welcome him to the 67's.

"That would honestly just add to the excitement," Konecny said of playing with Monahan. "I couldn't even imagine ever playing with him and getting to see him on my team, if he's not playing in the NHL next year. He's a great role model and great worker."

Seeing Monahan cement his status as a Top 10 or 12 draft pick in the most fecund draft class in a decade was the bright spot of a long 67's season. The 18-year-old centre managed that despite the obstacles put in front of him, including a 10-game head-checking suspension that kept him off the ice during the final weeks leading up to Canada's junior team selection camp, where he was an early cut.

"There weren't a lot of good things that happened for us this season," Byrne said. "One of them was having Sean there and having our young guys see someone preparing the right way, We hope Sean does make the jump, we'd love to see him on TV. The B plan isn't too bad, either, for him to come back here and lead our guys and try to make Team Canada."

Having the present and future faces of the franchise together, even for a short run, would help with the climb back. Either way, know this much: the Konecny crew's eagerness to please even extended to Travis' wardrobe. Konecny showed up Friday in the nation's capital's traditional sports colours — red-and-black tartan-patterned tie paired with a black dress shirt.

"My mom picked that out for me — we made sure I got the 67's colours," Travis Konecny said.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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