May 27, 2012
SHAWINIGAN, Que. — Chris Tierney found a niche this season on a contending team.
The London Knights centre, coming into the season, looked like a long shot to be drafted after a so-so yearling season in the OHL by the standards of first-round selections. But Tierney and rookies Josh Anderson and Bo Horvat were pound-for-pound the best Knights line for a couple months during the early stages of the OHL season. The trio's role was truncated in the second half of the season after the Knights added veteran depth to push for their city's second Ontario league title and a MasterCard Memorial Cup berth. Tierney adapted to it well, even scoring a game-winning goal in Game 3 of the league final vs. Niagara. He also set up a crucial marker in London's final round-robin game of the Memorial Cup. That win helped send London's to Sunday final vs. the surging Shawinigan Cataractes (BTN livechat, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT).
"Playing as a fourth-line player, you have to go as hard as you can," says Tierney, who's an angular 6-foot and 181 pounds. "Our line's been able to do that, has chipped in a couple of goals. We think we can go against the second and third line on the other team, go and get the puck and create some offence."
Tierney's smarts and savvy may get him at look on either draft day or at a rookie camp this summer or next. The London pedigree could help with opening doors for him at the next level and he has a reputation as a smart player, although one might wonder if he has a high ceiling as a pro. Tierney, who's from Keswick, Ont., counted 11 goals and 34 points with a +25 plus/minus rating in 65 regular-season games. He has given the Knights what they neeed at an underappreciated slot on the depth chart.
"Start of the year, I was looking for an identity as a hockey player on this team," Tierney says. "The second half of the year, we kind of found that. Cycle the pucks. We don't want to be playing in our end, we want to be playing in their end. That's how we're going to get more ice."
1. Apart from the obvious — first-step speed, getting stronger and leaner — where do you need to make the biggest strides before you can turn pro?
"Obviously getting stronger and developing a better shot are big things. The one area I really want to improve is my faceoffs. It's a key part of the game and that's a little thing that can get you to the next level along with shot-blocking. The guys at the next level know how to do it properly so that's one thing I need to improve on."
2. Whom in the NHL do you watch and think, "I see what he is doing" or "maybe I can start doing that?"
"I try to look at a guy like [New Jersey Devils centre] Zach Parise, who works hards in all three zones, battles around the ice. He's good on the cycle. He's got a lot of passion for the game. I model my game after him."
3. What teammate has affected you the most since you came to the OHL?
"Veteran guys such as Jared Knight, Scott Harrington and Michael Houser. The way they prepare before the games is something to look up to. They're really big parts of the team — guys who have played in world juniors [Harrington], guys who are second-round NHL picks [Harrington with Pittsburgh and Knight with Boston]. They're guys I look to with how they handle stuff on and off the ice."
4. If there was no hockey, what sport would you play?
"I played soccer most summers when I was a kid, but I think I would have really liked to have played lacrosse. It's kind of similar to hockey with the hands and the moves. I always wanted to play it. There's no teams in Keswick, you have to go to Newmarket to play it."
5. Is it good to have your birthday on Canada Day (born July 1, 1994)?
"It kind of does blend in a bit with that day being a holiday. It makes me pretty patriotic, I guess."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).