Mon Jun 04 11:32am EDT
Jake Dotchin can easily pinpoint his welcome-to-the-OHL moment — even if it wasn't easy to take at the time.
In his second Ontario league game last September in Guelph, about a 30-minute drive from his family's home, the Owen Sound Attack defenceman was checked from behind into the boards by the Storm's Brock McGinn. The Guelph left wing was suspended for six games, but it was part of the education of a rookie rearguard for Dotchin, who was in the nascent stages of becoming a bona fide prospect for the 2012 NHL draft.
"I got hit pretty hard from behind because I took my time with the puck," recalls the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Dotchin, whose status as NHL Central Scouting's 139rd-ranked North American skater probably undersells where he'll be chosen at the June 22-23 draft. "I think it opened my eyes that I needed to move the puck quicker. It was not a great thing when it happened, but it was a learning experience."
The Glen Morris, Ont., native might have been one of the OHL's most improved defenders across the final half of the season. Dotchin earned his epaulets as a shutdown defenceman. He used his big frame well to clear the crease, hand out stiff bodychecks and also drew assignments checking pper-echelon forwards, matching up against likely NHL first-round pick Radek Faksa during the Attack's playoff series vs. the Kitchener Rangers. All told, he finished with three goals and 19 points in 64 games and was minus-2, a very respectable rookie-season statline for a player on a sixth-place team. It also spoke volumes that Attack GM Dale DeGray dealt away two defenders from his 2011 OHL championship team, Matt Petgrave and Geoffrey Schemitsch, in order to get Dotchin's and fellow rookie Chris Bigras more ice time during the stretch drive. That exposure might have been what Dotchin needed to show he's worth a second- or third-round pick.
Dotchin played with the Junior B Cambridge Winter Hawks in his age-16 year. In retrospect, he might have made the jump to the OHL with another team, but the 2010-11 Attack were a unique case. They were a contending team which could only afford to carry two 16-year-olds — who happened to be Gemel Smith and Jarrod Maidens. Each is expected to be an early-round pick at the draft in Pittsburgh.
"When I was cut, I got upset," Dotchin says. "But when I returned this year I felt more confident, stronger, more patient. It didn't feel like it was great when it happened but it was definitely the right decision and the right thing for me.
"I learned this year what a grueling schedule the OHL is," he adds. "You can't really have an off-day or teams are going to kill you all over the ice. It's all about the little things that you didn't think mattered that much when you were growing up."
1. Apart from the obvious such as skating and building strength, what specific parts of the game do you really need to improve in before you will be ready for pro hockey?
"I really need to work on my feet, getting them better and getting them quicker to keep up to the best forwards in the OHL. I think I did an okay job there this year but there is always room for improvement in that part of my game — my pivoting and being more calm and more patient."
2. Whom do you really credit for helping you break into the OHL among your coaches and teammates?
"I can't say thanks enough to the coaches I had this year. [Attack head coach] Greg Ireland [and former assistant coach] Terry Virtue. They were probably the best coaches I've had coaching staff. It was great to be part of a team with such strong leaders like [captain and New York Islanders prospect] Mike Halmo, [defenceman] Jay Gilbert and [New York Rangers goaltending prospect] Scott Stajcer. Just even guys who just got drafted know what it takes, like Cat and Binner [Buffalo Sabres pick Daniel Catenacci and recent St. Louis Blues signing Jordan Binnington]. You really can't thank one guy because there were tonnes of guys who showed me the ropes and kept me calm at times when I was angry. They always picked you up when you had a big game."
3. Outside of family, who has the most influence on you in hockey?
"Other than my dad [Mark] and my uncle [Scott Dotchin], I'd have to go with the man who coached me in minor bantam and major bantam, Nate Herrington [with the Cambridge Hawks]. He played a couple seasons in the OHL and he was my best coach until I got to the OHL. He just pushed me in the right direction, always on the ass. He's definitely picked me up sometimes when things weren't going too well. I definitely have to thank Nate."
4. What was your favourite road arena this season?
"There were some pretty cool places — Kitchener, London, Guelph. But I'd say it was cool to play in Sudbury's rink. There's a nice old barn there [the Sudbury Community Arena]. When we played there they had a sold-out crowd and it was loud in the building. It was just a great northern type of atmosphere."
5. Hockey players have to be very strict about nutrition. So what's your guilty pleasure, food and/or drink?
"I love chicken wings and it's been tough to give up chicken wings, but I've been doing it. If I was to treat myself, it would definitely be chicken wings."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.