Small in some eyes, prospect plays like a Prince

TORONTO – Shane Prince has never known life without hockey.

Thanks to his father, Dan, the young Prince was on ice as soon as he could stand on his own two feet.

“The day I walked, my dad had me on skates,” the Ottawa 67’s forward said. “So I just started to skate and a year later he put a stick in my hand and I started to play hockey.”

And he never stopped, working his way though the minor hockey system in Rochester, N.Y., a 15-minute car ride from his home in Spencerport, N.Y. Eventually the car trips became longer -- 90 minutes each way -- when Prince moved on to junior hockey in Syracuse. Here on Wednesday, he was even further from home, but a little closer to his dream of finally making it to the NHL.

Prince, 18, scored the lone goal for Team Cherry in a 7-1 loss to Team Orr in the 2011 CHL Top Prospects Game in front of scores of NHL scouts. It was ironic he would be the only one of Don Cherry’s players to score, because he was only player that wasn’t supposed to be there. It was only by chance that Prince made it into the lineup for the Canadian Hockey League showcase since he was a late addition after highly touted Kitchener Rangers forward Gabriel Landeskog was sidelined by an ankle injury.

“I’ve been doubted my whole life and I’ve had to prove people wrong,” the 5-foot-10, 181-pound centre said. “I think I did a great job tonight.”

Prince was one of the better players on the ice for Team Cherry in what could only be described as lackluster, lopsided affair. He broke the shutout for Team Cherry with a shot through traffic that beat Owen Sound Attack goaltender Jordan Binnington.

“Things weren’t really going our way and I think that showed in the score,” Prince said. “But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with all these guys like this, and I think everyone was pretty excited.”

An opportunity he would have missed had Landeskog, the NHL’s top-ranked player in North America, been healthy. Still, the initial invite snub was a surprise considering Price is the second leading scorer in the Ontario Hockey League with 21 goals and 76 points in 44 regular-season games. His 55 assists with Ottawa lead the league, and he’s already more than doubled his 30 points from last year when he played 39 games for the Kitchener Rangers before a trade sent him to the 67’s to finish with another 26 games.

“Obviously he was a little disappointed when he wasn’t on the original roster,” Ottawa coach Chris Byrne said. “But he’s had to fight through a lot of stuff... so he’ll have to keep fighting and keep working.”

He found himself on the top line on Wednesday too, in the game which featured the top 40 draft eligible players from the CHL according to the NHL’s Central Scouting Service. On Team Cherry he found himself with Saint John Sea Dogs star Tomas Jurco, ranked 24th in North America, and Drummondville Voltigeurs star Sean Couturier, ranked No. 2.

“Couturier’s a great player and so is Tomas Jurco,” said Prince, who is ranked 35th. “I think we worked well tonight, we couldn’t really find the back of the net, but it was still good.”

Remarkably, the Top Prospects Game could have been the second time Prince was passed over this season after he failed to garner a World Junior camp invite from Team USA, despite leading the entire OHL in scoring at the time the invites were announced in December.

“It was disappointing, but I’m young and I have another year (of eligibility),” the teen said. “You can’t control those things and I like to focus on the things I can control, like helping out the 67’s, so you can’t let it bother you.”

The biggest knock on Prince from scouts is his small frame, he isn’t exactly able to power his way past defenders, though he’s managed to use his other attributes – good skating, excellent speed and great hands – playing on the 67’s top line along with Tyler Toffoli and Ryan Martindale, both NHL draft picks who played in the Prospects Game last year.

“In today’s game I don’t think size is a big issue at all,” Prince said. “I don’t consider myself a strong player and a lot of people may say, yeah, my size (is) maybe small, but I completely disagree. I think it has to do more with your skill and your speed and your strength, and I think I have a lot of that.”

The same kind of criticism was once hurled at another small Rochester native: the diminutive Brian Gionta, who along with other NHLers from Western New York like Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan and Tim Connolly, have skated with Prince in the summer. He says having that kind of insight into the type of discipline and effort needed to make the NHL, even from what he’s gathered through their summer skates, has been invaluable.

“I got to see a lot of them in the summer and growing up,” Prince said. “They’re great players at the highest level possible and it’s great to be around those guys to see what they do, see their skills and see what it takes to get there (to the NHL).”

Growing up in the hockey hotbed, Prince would take in his share of AHL action with the Rochester Americans and follow his favourite team as kid, the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. Price said hockey was always a family affair with his dad having played for a local Junior A squad.

“If they don’t play (hockey), they’re a fan of it,” said Prince of his relatives

And in June, at the 2011 NHL draft in St. Paul, Minn., he’s hoping to give his family another reason to cheer.

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