Hard-hitting Patrick Sieloff is attempting to follow the path of the last shutdown defenceman who came from the U.S. national development team program and became a force in the Ontario Hockey League.
Sieloff, a husky 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, is not as hulking as 6-foot-7 Jarred Tinordi, the Montreal Canadiens first-rounder who just captained the London Knights to within a single goal of the MasterCard Memorial Cup. However, the Ann Arbor, Mich., native who announced last weekend that he will play for the Windsor Spitfires after the NHL draft uses his big frame well and is steadily getting better at playing a tidy, defensive defenceman's game. He wore an alternate captain's A on his jersey when he helped Team USA win its fourth IIHF under-18 gold medal in a row last month, playing big minutes for a squad that gave up only four goals in six games.
"I love how the OHL is an offensive kind of league but at the same time they need some guys who can be stay-at-home defencemen and rush up once in a while," Sieloff said Tuesday from Toronto, where he is attending the NHL combine. "I love the challenge of facing high-end offensive guys every night so when I go to the next level, I'll know how to handle it.
"I definitely look at guys like Jarred Tinordi and how they've done, as well forwards like [New York Rangers first-rounder] J.T. Miller [of the Plymouth Whalers]."
Sieloff, who is NHL Central Scouting's 31st-ranked North American skater, was initially committed to the NCAA's Miami RedHawks. However, he'll end up playing closer to home with the Spitfires, who got his OHL rights last November in the deal that sent U.S. NTDP grad Jack Campbell to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Windsor GM and vice-president Warren Rychel likens Sieloff to New Jersey Devils defenceman Anton Volchenkov, noting a physical defenceman was something the Spits lacked this season.
"It's huge for us," Rychel said. "He's a piece you need. You look at those [London] defencemen, Olli Määttä and Jarred Tinordi, guys like that. He's just a big defenceman, solid. He'll be a fan favourite in Windsor. It's a good signing for us as we build toward '14 [when Windsor is planning to bid to the MasterCard Memorial Cup]. He's a nice kid, he's a fitness freak. He's kind of like a Bob Boughner with a little more speed.
"It's a good fit. He's got two NHL defencemen on the bench here to teach him, [head coach] Bob Boughner and [assistant coach] D.J. Smith and he's close to his home. He's going to put everything in the basket here. It's good for us. We need that presence here."
Sieloff was plus-3 with no points in six games at the world under-18s, where he was No. 3 on Team USA's depth chart behind likely top 10 NHL picks Jacob Trouba (who's committed to Michigan) and Seth Jones (who has signed with the Portland Winterhawks for his 2012-13 draft season). Sieloff, having been based in Michigan, has a good grasp of the OHL. Spitfires forwards Ben Johnson and Brady Vail are ex-minor hockey teammates and he often skates with 40-goal scorer Kerby Rychel. There will be some learning curve for him in his new league.
"This year we had some hard challenges against college teams and also the international play," Sieloff said. "There will be some adjustment but hopefully it won't take too long."
1. How would you say this season progressed for you?
"I think I really started to progress last season with the [U.S. NTDP] under-17 team. Jones and Trouba moved up to play for the U18 team and it really opened up ice time for the defencemen. I just went into it with an open mind and was determined to make the best of it and toward the end of the [2010-11] year it went well. It was tough for our team to not to have them, but it was good because we were always playing with just six or seven defencemen.
"This year I felt I capped it off with a strong worlds. I didn't try to do too much, just play my game. At the end of the year I pulled it together ... the big thing this year was just to make the world team. That was a goal of mine this year and I'm glad it worked out."
2. Apart from the obvious such as acceleration or building strength, what area of your games needs the most improvement before you will be ready to turn pro?
"I want to work on my backwards skating specifically and my gap control. I want to spend a lot of time on that this summer. Also quicker feet and quicker movements with the puck."
3. Whom in the NHL do you watch closely, not necessarily to model yourself after him, but say, "I see what he did there, I have to that" or "I think I can do what he just did?"
"I definitely look at [Detroit Red Wings defencemen] Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart. I feel like I play a similar kind of game. They're big and can get [check] guys with their head down. I grew up watching the Red Wings and going to the games and they were the guys I liked."
4. Outside of family, who has had the greatest influence on you in hockey?
"Andy Copp [his coach with the Detroit Compuware minor hockey program] is one who sticks out to me all the time. He taught me stuff not just about hockey but about being a man. He's definitely the coach I think has taught me the most and I look up to him. His son [Michigan recruit Andrew Copp] played with us last year."
5. Hockey is all-consuming, what do you do when you absolutely have to unplug from it for a couple hours during the season, or a day in the summer?
"Going golfing and another thing is just swimming. Anything with a po0l or a lake is good."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.