This past hockey season, I had an opportunity to watch the Don Mills Flyers Midget AAA team play twice in Greater Toronto Hockey League games. The main attraction was Shane Wright who, at the time I watched him play, had yet to apply for ‘exceptional status’ to play in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) next season as a 15 year old.
It was easy to see that this team was very special and loaded with talent. Wright, who was 14 at the time, stood out in many ways. First off, with his size at 6’0” and 185 lbs there was little danger that he was going to be pushed around. But it was his skating that really stood out and made him appear to be a player at least five years older. The obvious physical strength through the core of his body again makes one forget how young he actually is. You could just as easily be watching a 19-year-old OHL veteran and not a 14-year-old wonder kid.
Fast forward the tape to Friday Apr. 6, 2019 in the Council Chambers of Kingston City Hall, where Kingston Frontenacs President Doug Gilmour was about to make the announcement that befitted Captain Obvious. The Frontenacs were going to select Shane Wright with their number one position in the following day’s OHL Priority Selection.
After welcoming Shane, his mother Tanya and his father Simon, Gilmour handed the microphone over to the person that everyone in the room had come to see and meet. What happened next showed one of that attributes that make this young man exceptional in many ways.
Without the aid of notes, Wright thanked his parents and his sister for their unwavering support. Ok, pretty standard and expected. He then thanked his former Don Mills teammates, coaches, support staff and fans. He spoke of the brotherhood that had been formed over the past few seasons, which was obviously came from the heart.
Then he talked about his excitement coming to Kingston and the Frontenacs organization and named each staff member present by name. And he did so without the safety net of notes. Many present reflected on their public speaking abilities as 15 year olds and all agreed that Shane Wright is exceptional.
Team President Doug Gilmour explained that there is a great deal that goes into the process of granting exceptional status.
“I was on the committee when we granted it to (John) Tavares. It’s a long process and they take their time and make sure the player will be able to handle the pressure on and off the ice,” Gilmour said.
“Tavares blew everyone out of the water. Shane did the exact same with the board during his interviews.”
One small frustration in interviewing young hockey players is that they usually have stock answers to questions and often vomit a string of clichés. Shane Wright is not a typical young hockey player. When asked a question, he looks the interviewer in the eye and gives a well thought out answer. When asked if he was worried about the potential lack of an effective supporting cast he said, “No, not at all. I know this is a process and the organization will be successful in the rebuild.” He went from interview to interview with the local media with the ease of a well-seasoned professional.
When asked if the addition of Wright and the attention it will bring puts added pressure on the coaching staff, Head Coach Kurtis Foster said, “No, not at all. We’ll be coaching and developing 22 players and Shane will be one of those players. We’re extremely excited that he’s here and our job is to make everyone better and win games. One thing I do know is that we’ll be a much better team in September than we were in March.”
The next step for the Frontenacs hockey staff is a trip to Sweden for the Under 18 World Championships (April 14 – 20) to scout European players who will be eligible for this June’s import draft. The Fronts will select two players with the 2nd and 32nd selection.
“We’re still not sure what direction we’ll go in with the Euro draft. We may select 18 year olds, or go younger. It just depends on who is available,” Gilmour said, adding that they will be selecting a forward with their first choice and someone who can step in and play with Wright right away.
As for Wright’s Don Mills teammates? Well, thirteen of them were selected in the OHL Priority Selection on Saturday, Apr. 6, including Francesco Arcuri, who the Frontenacs took with their 2nd round pick (27th overall). The pick originally belonged to Sarnia. Arcuri was projected to be a first round selection, however fell to the second round, as teams filled immediate needs instead of simply selecting the best player available. This bit of fate may pay huge dividends for the Fronts down the road. The most obvious being that Wright will have a close friend with him as he embarks on the next phase of his hockey career.
When leaving City Hall someone asked me what I thought of the new kid. I answered by saying I had just met the teams future captain. The Frontenacs now have a player who is as good a person as he is a hockey player. The word ‘exceptional,’ in this case, cannot be overused.
Tim “The Coach” Cunningham has played every sport ever. His inside knowledge can be heard and seen on radio, television and in print across Canada. Follow him on twitter at @TheCoachTC.