As a Maple Leafs season ticket holder, former St. Mike’s Buzzer and current Oshawa General Lucas Lessio was agog with the chance to play hockey at the Air Canada Centre.
Chosen as one of 40 future NHL draftees in Home Hardware CHL Top Prospects game, Lessio expressed his appreciation after morning practice on Jan. 19.
“I’m in awe being in this dressing room,” he said, the silver Maple Leaf emblem hanging above his head.
Adding to his elation was Team Orr coaches — Maple Leafs alumni — Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark.
“They’ve been through it, they know what it’s all about,” Lessio said. “They had amazing careers in the NHL.
“Just to have those two in behind the bench, it’s just … you can’t find words for it, it’s unbelievable.”
Along for the ride were 39 other players from various Canadian Hockey League teams. Among them were young guns Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Red Deer Rebels, Drummondville Voltigeur Sean Couturier and Kitchener Ranger Ryan Murphy.
Playing with his fellow peers and CHL stars on ice was a new experience, Lessio said.
“You’ve got the top 40 prospects here and it really puts it into perspective where you are, where everybody is, what you need to work on compared to them,” he said. “It’s really good being around these great players.”
Cliff Fletcher, senior advisor for Toronto Maple Leafs, took in the morning skate of Team Orr with interest.
“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.”
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.”
In 45 games played for Oshawa Generals, Lessio is fifth on a deep squad with 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists).
Turning 18 on the Sunday after the prospects game, it surely was a birthday gift to remember. But as always, hockey was the phenom’s focus.
“If you just stick to what you do best, stick with the gameplan given to you by the coaches and stick with your teammates, you can trust all these guys because they’re all great players,” he said.
“It should be really fun tonight.”
Indeed, it was. Lessio’s side, team Orr, won 7-1 over Team Cherry.
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