OSHAWA, Ont. – Oshawa Generals head coach Chris DePiero remembers the first time he saw a small, slight kid named Calvin de Haan.
It was 2007 and the team had selected the defenceman in the third round of the Ontario Hockey League draft – 50th overall – and hopes were high he’d fill out his 5-foot-9, 150-pound frame en route to becoming their future anchor on the blue line. But that wasn’t meant to be, at least not right away, since 48 hours into in his first OHL camp de Haan told the Generals he was going home.
“He just said, ’I’m not ready to make this jump just yet,’” said DePiero. “He was still a pretty good player, but he was tiny… but he made that assertion and he kind of knew that himself. He’s very self-assured.”
So de Haan left the Generals and returned home to Carp, Ont., outside Ottawa to play with the Central Jr. A Hockey League’s Kemptville 73’s. During that Jr. A stint, de Haan was named the league’s rookie of the year with three goals and 49 assists in 58 games. The next year de Haan returned to camp in Oshawa, bigger, stronger and far more confident in his abilities.
“It was like, ‘Wow, this kid is at another level now,’ ” said DePiero of the defenceman’s return.
And true to form, the now 6-foot-1, 190-pound defenceman has proven to be a classic late-bloomer, even though he’s now come into his own as a star in Oshawa and on the international stage at the world junior championships. He said spending that extra year in Jr. A helped him hone his skills and better prepared him for OHL success. This season with the Generals de Haan scored six goals and added 42 assists for 48 points in 55 games.
“I guess you could say I was a little bit of a late-bloomer because I didn’t play as a 16-year-old in the (OHL),” said de Haan. “But I took the time in Jr. A to refine my game and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Prior to this year, de Haan had never been to the post-season with the Generals, despite being a key member on two Canadian national teams that have won silver at the world junior championships. On Saturday night, de Haan played in only the sixth playoff career of his three-year junior career, a 6-4 victory over the visiting Niagara IceDogs in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.
“It’s been awesome,” he said of the playoff experience. “I wouldn’t say it’s a different game, but it’s a little more intense out on the ice.
“It’s pretty cool to be playing hockey when it’s 15 degrees outside.”
De Haan had three points on the night, with all of the markers coming on the power player where he’s been pivotal in directing traffic.
“When he’s on the ice the game calms down,” said DePiero. “He doesn’t rush, he has puck control whether that’s within a series of shifts, a period or a whole game, it’s amazing.”
“He’s very methodical in his thinking and you can see that even when he plays.”
The sense of calm has also helped the team around him, since they know if things get tough, he’ll be there to temper any panic.
“You can always trust him to make the right plays,” said defensive partner Colin Suellentrop. “Sometimes if I’m unsure, I’ll try to just give him the puck and let him make the right play because he’s always making the right choices. He’s a very reliable player.”
That reliability and poise made him an attractive pick for the New York Islanders, when they traded up and selected him in the first round – 12th overall – in the 2009 NHL draft.
“I like to pride myself on being calm under pressure,” said the Generals captain. “I like to think it’s one of my good features on the ice, to stay composed and be patient.”
At times talking to de Haan can be difficult because he’s seemingly shy, staid and cerebral. But his teammates say when he’s around the boys, he’s actually a bit of a prankster.
“He’s not a shy guy at all,” said Suellentrop. “He’s very sarcastic. He’s a fun guy.”
Playing for the Generals in playoffs has definitely been worth the wait, says de Haan. He said he bought into DePiero’s rebuilding plan when the Generals traded star forward John Tavares and defenceman Michael Del Zotto – now both NHLers – to London in an effort to get younger. After missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons, the Generals finished fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 39-19-4-6 record to qualify for the post-season.
“I think in his mind, he wanted to see this through,” said DePiero. “And the fact that we had the year we had, from that standpoint, it was one of the best record’s for the Generals in the last 15 years and for him to be the captain of a team that’s done that is a credit to him. I think he recognized where we were going.”