With the crisp chill of arena air, the sounds of pucks ricocheting off posts and the Air Canada symbol hovering above his head, Crestwood Prep student Dougie Hamilton practised on the same surface as his childhood heroes.
Taking part in the 16th annual Home Hardware CHL Top Prospects Game on Team Orr, the star defenceman on the OHL’s Niagara Ice Dogs was enthused about the chance of changing in the Leafs dressing room.
“Just being named to this is an honour so it’s nice having it in Toronto, which is only an hour and a half from St. Catharines and back in my hometown,” he said. “It’s pretty cool, growing up I came to a lot of Leafs games and I came down here, watched the Leafs go out onto the ice.”
Standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 194 lbs, the blueliner definitely has the build for his position.
But it’s not all about his athletics. The 17-year-old won the Ivan Tennant Memorial Award as the OHL’s top academic talent. He had a 98 percent average.
Getting good grades is a lot easier than people think, Hamilton said.
“It’s just time management,” he said. “Doing my homework, knowing when to study and when to have fun.”
Though his school accommodates his busy hockey schedule, his studies are imperative.
“Our schedule is a little lighter than regular class and the teachers are generous too, when we hand in stuff,” he said. “I was given some talent in academics, it’s important in our family, so I work hard and that’s what I get.”
Academics aside, Hamilton is focused on staying sharp on the skates because you never know who will be watching.
Cliff Fletcher, senior advisor for Toronto Maple Leafs, was one pair of eyes viewing the players as they ran their drills Jan. 19.
“What this does here is it gives an opportunity to these young guys to experience a major league environment, an NHL dressing room and NHL facilities,” he told the Town Crier. “It just gives them a little taste of what it’s all about.”
Hamilton’s coach Doug Gilmour, who Fletcher brought to Toronto via the blockbuster Flames-Leafs trade in 1992, stressed the future stars should not worry about pressure.
“You see the commitment in their eyes,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of time left as the year goes on with their club teams, so it’s not going to make or break them.”
There’s no doubt Hamilton’s focusing on the upcoming draft, one where he is ranked seventh, according to central scouting statistics.
“It’s going to be nice to get a chance to play in the NHL,” he said.
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