A bridge that connects Pennsylvania and New Jersey has the slogan “Trenton Makes The World Takes” in huge neon-lit letters posted across its span- a tribute to the Garden State capital’s manufacturing and industrial heritage.
Taylor Davis wants to be Trenton’s next big export, and he’s working far from the shadows of the Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge that carries his hometown’s motto in hopes of making his hockey dreams come true.
Davis first put on a pair of skates at Mercer County’s Ice Land when he was three years old after he watched a hockey game on television and told his mother “Mommy, I want to do that.”
Today, Davis is a 19-year-old defenseman for the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s, and he’s on a mission to join fellow Jersey Boys like Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau and Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk in the National Hockey League.
“That’s the goal,” Davis said.
Gaudreau was a fourth-round draft pick in 2011. Van Riemsdyk was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, taken behind Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.
While “Johnny Hockey” and JVR burst onto the hockey scene as heralded draft picks, Davis has had to barge his way into the consciousness of the hockey world.
He wasn’t drafted by any Canadian major junior hockey team despite helping Western New York’s Kenmore East High School win the New York State Division II (Small School) championship in 2012 and despite having a solid 2011-12 season with the Buffalo Blades, a Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League team that counts Patrick Kane and former NHLer Todd Marchant among its alums.
Davis joined 67’s basically as a walk-on after being recommended to team officials
by Truman Dumel, a bird-dog scout who never actually saw Davis play but knew of his hockey pedigree and commitment to the game.
“I kept in touch with their head scout, who was Joe Rowley at the time, and he asks me if I know of any guys,” Dumel recalled. “I go to him, ‘Yeah, I know this kid from New Jersey.'”
Dumel’s recommendation earned Davis an invite to Ottawa’s rookie camp. His performance there garnered an invitation to the 67’s main camp and a roster spot on the team in 2012-13.
He’s been a mainstay on the blue line ever since, though he admits it was a challenge in the beginning of his OHL career.
“I had ups and downs in my first year, going against guys in practice like (Sean)Monahan, who’s in the NHL with the Calgary Flames now,” Davis told me recently. “It was a total shock coming from where you were the man and now you’re a fish in the big sea. It was pretty tough, but it’s been a nice adjustment for me.”
Nice indeed. This season, the 5-foot-11, 216-pound Davis has 2 goals and 11 assists in 47 games for the 67’s. He’s turned around a rookie-year plus/minus of minus-10 to a plus-11 this season.
“He has all the talent,” Dumel said. “He’s determined. He knows he has to prove himself, which is what he’s doing. He’s been playing hockey since he was three. He’s trying to go as far as he can.”
Trying to get far in hockey has kept Davis far from home in the off-season. He spent last summer in Venice Beach, California, working out with fitness maven T.R. Goodman, who’s trained Anaheim Ducks forward Emerson Etem and retired NHL stars Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick, and Alan May.
“He’s very good, definitely knows his stuff,” Davis said of Goodman. “When I was there, Emerson Etem was there. Mike Tyson was there in the mornings and you’d see Lou Ferrigno walking around Gold’s Gym all the time.”
When he wasn’t pumping iron, Davis would chat with actor Ray Liotta, another Jersey Boy and regular at Goodman’s gym.
“Ray Liotta was always in there,” Davis said. “I always talked to him – he’s a really funny guy.”