Josh Ho-Sang wasn’t on time on the first day of the New York Islanders training camp his rookie year, a transgression that prompted the National Hockey League team to immediately ship the talented forward back to junior hockey.
New York Islanders forward Josh Ho-Sang gets his first goal in his fourth NHL game.
Ho-Sang was right on time Tuesday night – scoring his first NHL goal on a wicked one-time slap shot that helped the Islanders beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 in Edmonton.
Ho-Sang’s goal came in his fourth NHL game at 17:23 minutes of the first period on a power play shot that blew past Oilers goalie Cam Talbot.
Islanders forward Andrew Ladd retrieved the puck as a keepsake for Ho-Sang, the son of a black Jamaican father of Chinese descent and a Jewish Chilean mother with Russian and Swedish bloodlines.
The Islanders chose Ho-Sang in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft with the 28th overall pick. The move was viewed as controversial at the time – the Islanders made a trade to get the pick – because Ho-Sang was considered to be too outspoken, too flashy, and too immature by several NHL general managers and scouts.
But Ho-Sang has worn the number throughout his career in honor of Lemieux. He even wore it when he was a linemate of Oilers’ superstar Connor McDavid when they played for the Toronto Malboros youth hockey program.
Kyle Bollers’ Twitter bio used to say that he was going to finish what his older brother started – a vow he made to become a professional hockey player after his talented sibling grew tired of the game and quit three years ago.
Now there’s a sibling rivalry going on to see who’ll reach the pros first, Kyle or older brother Cyril Bollers, Jr. They’re each taking distinctively different paths that they hope will lead to the same destination – the National Hockey League.
Kyle, 17, signed with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League over the weekend after he impressed coaches with his play after he essentially joined the Spirit’s summer team as a walk-on and later out-played and out-hustled Saginaw’s top draft picks in training camp.
“It’s a big jump from where I was last year, a big opportunity for me to show what I have,” Kyle told me recently. “It’s a big step.”
Forward Kyle Bollers begins the 2016-17 season with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit.
Meanwhile, his 20-year-old brother C.J. flew to Sweden over the weekend to resume his career playing for a team outside of Stockholm, stoked by a renewed sense of passion and a greater appreciation for the game.
“He did kind of finish what I started, he just signed with an OHL team. I never did – I had the opportunity, but I never did,” C.J. said of Kyle’s vow. “Now he just has to make it to the NHL before I do, which I’m not going to let him do. We’ve got a little brotherly bet going on to see who does. It will just raise the competition and raise our games a bit more.”
Kyle is rooting for his brother to reach the NHL first but warned that “if he doesn’t, then I’m coming for him.”
Kyle has been trying to leap-frog a lot of players ever since he was passed over twice by major junior hockey teams in league drafts. He played last season for Michigan’s Traverse City Hounds inthe U.S. Premier Hockey League, which gives young under-the-radar players a chance to showcase their skills for upper-level leagues and top NCAA hockey programs.
A left wing, Kyle finished fourth on the Hounds in scoring last season with 29 goals and 27 assists in 46 games as a 16-year-old rookie. He notched a goal and 2 assists in seven USPHL playoff games.
Kyle Bollers, left, finished fourth in scoring for the USPHL’s Traverse City Hounds last season with 56 points as a 16-year-old rookie (Photo/Jay Johnston/Game Day).
When his USPHL season ended, Kyle asked Spirit head scout Ian Meahgher if he could play on the OHL team’s summer squad.
“He eventually ended up being one of our top scorers and earned an invite to main camp,” Spirit General Manager Dave Drinkill said. “In camp, Kyle showed the skill and speed we were looking for when rounding out our forward group.”
Drinkill noted that “Very few players have come as far as Kyle has since being passed over in the OHL draft twice, and being able to earn a roster spot as a free agent invitee is quite the accomplishment.”
But he stressed that Kyle making the team isn’t a happy ending. It’s just a beginning.
“It’s one of those really feel-good stories but, like we told Kyle, ‘We’re not signing you just because it’s a feel-good story,'” he said. “‘We’re signing you because we think you have the ability to be a good hockey player down the road.'”
A lot of hockey people said the same about defenseman C.J. Bollers. The Guelph Storm liked him enough to take him in the ninth round with the 169th overall pick of the 2012 OHL draft.
After quitting the game three years ago, hockey is fun again for C.J. Bollers. He played in a showcase All-Star game in Toronto in June (Photo/AlexD’Addese/TEP Showcase)
But C.J. never signed with Guelph. A combination of hockey burnout and a bum collarbone took the joy out of the game. Instead of hockey, C.J. wanted to make a go of it in music or acting.
“After breaking my collarbone twice within six months, it kind of got into my head,” C.J. told me. “After that, I felt like I kind of plateaued because I wasn’t on teams I felt I should have been on. I was around the wrong people. They weren’t people with high aspirations in hockey. They were playing hockey to play minor hockey. I kind of developed that same mentality…I kind of felt bad for myself and then I couldn’t get out of that slump for a bit. I just dropped out of the game because I felt there was nothing left for me.”
“I think I cried for about two years straight,” the elder Bollers told me. “Couldn’t watch the OHL on TV because he should have been there. I couldn’t watch the NHL draft because he could have been there, or should have been there. I spent a lot of time just driving, thinking, and ending up different places that I don’t know how I got there.”
But what dad didn’t know was that his son was having second thoughts. After talking to a friend whose soccer career ended because of a devastating knee injury and watching former youth hockey buddies like New York Islanders prospect Josh Ho-Sang, MontrealCanadiens 2015 draftee Jeremiah Addison and Columbus Blue Jackets farmhand Dante Salituro climb the hockey ladder, C.J. realized he loved the game and missed it.
“Coaches always tell you that you don’t want to be the one who looks back and say ‘What if?'” he said. “Unfortunately, I was that person who had to look back at all my friends grow up, do well, and succeed. Now it’s just my turn to catch up with them and…surpass them.”
C.J. Bollers suited up for Team Jamaica in June as part of his hockey comeback. (Photo/Tim Bates/ OJHL Images).
After first telling his mother, C.J. told his father in May that he wanted to return to hockey. Dad’s reaction?
“I got on the phone and the next day he’s on the ice for three sessions,” the elder Bollers said.
C.J. has no illusions about the challenges ahead in shaking off three years of rust, living in a different country, and playing on larger European ice surfaces where skating skills are a must to survive.
“I know for a fact that if I put in the hard work, it will take me four or five years to maybe get to the NHL, and then from there maybe a bit more to get to Team Canada,” he said. “It took Joel Ward until he was 26 to get into the NHL.”
As for Kyle’s Twitter bio, he recently amended it to say “me and my brother are going to finish what we started.”
It’s one thing to be a hockey coach and tell a young under-the-radar player on what he or she needs to do to grab the attention of NCAA and major junior hockey programs, it’s another thing bestowing that advice when the player in question is your kid.
Just ask Cyril Bollers.
Traverse City Hounds forward Kyle Bollers.
After his 16-year-old son,Kyle Bollers, was bypassed by Canadian major teams, the elder Bollers, who’s the director of player development for the Skillz Black Aces and has coached for Canadian hockey teams at the youth and junior levels, convened a family meeting to go over the options Kyle had to chase professional hockey-playing dream.
With skating for an Ontario Hockey League major junior team close to his suburban Toronto home out, Kyle’s family concluded the he’d have to leave home and play in a lower but nonetheless important league to catch the eyes of collegiate and major junior scouts.
The youngest and only foreign-born player on the team, Kyle finished fourth on the Hounds in scoring with 29 goals and 27 assists in 46 regular season games.
He helped propel the Hounds to second place in the USPHL’s Eastern Conference Division with a 37-9 record with two overtime losses. The Hounds are currently battling the DetroitFighting Irish in the second round of the playoffs.
“Honestly, I never expected to do this well. This was a good step – a great decision that me and my family chose to send me down here,” Kyle told me recently. “Missing my mom, my dad, and my brothers and sisters, that’s been the hardest part. There are some days that I wish I could be home. But at the same time, I just think to myself ‘Why am I here, what’s, my goal, and what I do need to do to achieve that goal?’ And what I need to do is to be here.”
Kyle Bollers scored 29 goals in 46 regular season games for the USPHL Hounds (Photo/Jay Johnston/Game Day)
While Kyle may have been occasionally homesick, his parents confessed to being occasionally heart-sick about his absence. Still, father Cyril said move to Traverse City gives Kyle “an opportunity to be seen in the U.S., it gives him an opportunity to pursue his dream of playing college or major junior hockey, it gives him a brand new start, it gives him sense of independence being away from home as a 16-year-old.”
“It also gives him a sense of accomplishment of achieving and continuing to progress at a high level,” the elder Bollers said. “So for us, it’s a bitter sorrow because he is away from home. But he’s being productive in pursuing his hockey endeavors.”
The USPHL was founded in 2012 and it consists of 110 teams from 55 hockey organizations across 19 states. The teams skate in the Premier, Elite, Midwest, USP3, Under-18, Under-16 and Under-16 Futures divisions.
More than 350 USPHL players have gone on to play college or professional hockey. Center Jack Eichel went from the USPHL’s BostonJunior Bruins to a standout career at Boston University to being the Buffalo Sabres’ 2015 first-round draft pick and a top contender this season for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s best rookie.
Center Charlie Coyleadvanced from Massachusetts’ South Shore Kings to BU to being the San Jose Sharks’ 2010 first-round draft pick. Coyle is the Minnesota Wild’s leading scorer so far this season.
Kyle Bollers, left, hopes that success in the USPHL leads to playing NCAA or major junior hockey in the near-future.
Kyle is hoping the USPHL will put him on the same glide path. Lester Griffin, the Hounds’majority owner and general manager, thinks it’s only a matter of time .
“He’s got great hands, sees the ice real well. We’re working with him to help improve his puck movement, passing,” Griffin told me recently. “He’s got a lot of potential and next year, he should be playing up somewhere.”
This summer, Kyle will likely spend some quality time on-ice with his dad, who’s a coach for the Jamaica Ice Hockey Federation, an organization that’s trying to develop a team that would eventually represent the Caribbean island nation in the Winter Olympics.
Kyle, whose family is of West Indian heritage, has practiced and played in an exhibition game for Team Jamaica. He said he’s looking forward to donning the team’s snazzy yellow, black, and green jersey and skate in more exhibition matches this summer.
When a HockeyHall of Famer, four-time Stanley Cup winner, three-time NorrisTrophy recipient, and second-leading scorer among National Hockey League defenseman all time calls and asks you to ride shotgun with him in coaching a Canadian Junior “A” hockey team, what do you do?
“This opportunity came and I jumped at it,” Cyril Bollers, president and coach of SkillzHockey told me. “That was something I never thought possible.”
Cyril Bollers works the bench as assistant coach of the OJHL Pickering Panthers (Photo/Dan Hickling/Hickling Images)
The vacancies occurred when owner Steve Tuchner fired GM/Head Coach Matt Galati late last month. The Panthers are in the 22-team OJHL, a league that serves as a pipeline to NCAA and Canadian college hockey programs. It’s the Canadian equivalent to the United States HockeyLeague.
The Panthers are currently in second place with a 9-7-1 record in the OJHL’s North Division.
Coffey – who racked up 396 goals and 1,135 assists with nine NHL teams over a 21-season career – reached out to Bollers who once coached Coffey’s son, Blake, on an Under-15 hockey team. Blake Coffey is on the Panthers roster. Familiarity with the younger Coffey and with the OJHL were all pluses for Bollers.
“I coached in the OJ before with Brampton as a head coach, but I think for me what is most impressive is receiving a call from Mr. Coffey and being asked to come and join the team,” Bollers told me.
Bollers is one of the few coaches of color in high-level organized hockey. PhiladelphiaFlyers’Craig Berube and Buffalo Sabres’ Ted Nolan, both of First Nations heritage, are currently the only minority head coaches in the National Hockey League.
Paul Jerrard, who is black, is an assistant head coach for the Utica Comets, the Vancouver Canucks’American Hockey League farm team. Darren Lowe, who’s also black, is head coach of the University of Toronto’s men’s hockey team.
Bollers is sharing his coaching Skillz with Pickering.
And Bollers aspires to join their ranks. His Skillz Black Aces and Black Mafia teams began as Toronto-based youth hockey teams comprised of elite, National Hockey League draft-eligible players born between 1995 and 1996 – and almost all of them black. As the program became successful, kids of all colors began filling out the rosters.
Skillz alums include Windsor Spitfires forward Joshua Ho-Sang, the New York Islanders first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Barrie Colts forward Brendan Lemieux, a Buffalo Sabres second-round pick this summer, Portland Winterhawks forward Keegan Iverson, a New York Rangers 2014 third-round pic, and Jaden Lindo, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2014 sixth-round pick, all played for Bollers.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman Darnell Nurse, the Edmonton Oilers’ 2013 first-round pick, Kitchener Rangers forward Justin Bailey, a Sabres 2013 second-round choice, and Bellville Bulls defenseman Jordan Subban, a VancouverCanucks 2013 fourth-round selection and the brother of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, also played under Bollers.
The Pickering post is the latest coaching assignment for Bollers. In March, he was tapped to be an assistant coach for an Under-16 hockey team that will represent Ontario in the 2015 Canada Winter Games.
For Coffey, the Pickering job is his latest foray into to hockey team management. He was head coach of the Toronto Marlboros midget “AAA” team last season when he was suspended for three games by the Greater Toronto Hockey League for allegedly making “discriminatory slurs” in the closing minutes of a game against the Senators, The Hockey News reported in February.
Details of the incident were never fully disclosed. But The Hockey News reported that the Senators lobbied the GTHL for leniency for Coffey, saying the incident had been blown out of proportion.
At the end of the two days, the head coach who had no idea about exactly what he’d gotten himself into sounded pumped.
“The talent level is off the charts,” Graeme Townshend, head coach of the under-construction Jamaican national ice hockey program proclaimed Sunday. “We have a lot of talented kids at our disposal. There are some good players up here, obviously, but I didn’t expect them to be as good as they are.”
The Jamaica Olympic Ice Hockey Federation took its first on-ice strides toward building an Olympics-worthy national team with a two-day tryout at a suburban Toronto rink over the weekend under the watchful eyes of Townshend, a former Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators forward who was the National Hockey League’s first Jamaican-born player, and Cyril Bollers, president and coach of SkillzHockey.
And so it begins. Participants in Jamaica’s first-ever ice hockey effort pose for history.
About 18 skaters – from as far away as Sweden and Washington, D.C., and as nearby as Scarborough, Ont., and Quebec – ventured to the Westwood Arena in Etobicoke, donned practice jerseys with Jamaica’s yellow, black, and green flag on the front, and showed Townshend, Bollers, and the rest of the JOIHF brain trust what they could do. Twenty-five players showed up for Sunday’s sessions. The tryout participants ranged in age from 15 to 28, Townshend told me.
“As the word got around, more and more kids started to find us, I guess,” he added.
The prospect of representing his mother’s homeland is what prompted 17-year-old forward David Southwells to travel to North America for the first time from his family’s current home in Tingsryd, Sweden, birthplace of former Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kjell Samuelsson.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Southwells told me. “It would mean a huge amount, especially to my family because of our heritage.”
Hockey Coach Graeme Townshend (center) liked what he saw during Jamaica’s first-ever ice hockey tryout.
Washington’s Duante Abercrombie learned about the Jamaica tryout via Instagram about a week ago. An alum of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, the oldest minority youth hockey program in the United States, Abercrombie happened to be in Whitby, Ont., training for a potential tryout with the Dayton Demonz of the Federal Hockey League when he got the message.
The trip from Whitby to Toronto was a short train ride for Abercrombie, one that also spurred a family reunion in search of his Jamaican roots.
“I didn’t speak to my dad when I was a child, and my mom (Devara Abercrombie) always said my dad had Jamaican (in him) but she didn’t know where it went because they didn’t speak. I was three months old when they separated,” Abercrombie told me. “I didn’t speak to him until I was 18 years old, and maybe just three times. The only other time I spoke to him was this past week when I let him know that he officially needs to find (his Jamaican) descendants and other stuff.”
That conversation led to more talk and a warm catching up between Abercrombie and his father, Michael Armstead.
“He was so excited. He’s kept up with everything that I’ve done,” Duante Abercrombie told me. “This weekend wasn’t just a great weekend for hockey, it also gave me an opportunity to connect with my dad. It was really a powerful, powerful weekend. I just didn’t get a hockey blessing, I got a family blessing out of it, too.”
Abercrombie is only 28 but consider him a hockey lifer. After playing for Fort Dupont Head Coach Neal Henderson and winning a Washington, D.C., hockey championship with Gonzaga High School, Abercrombie set his sights on reaching the pro ranks.
His quest took him to New Zealand in 2011-12 to play for the West Auckland Admirals of the New Zealand Ice Hockey League. Since then, he’s been preparing for his chance, perpetually training on and off the ice should a team come calling.
The closest he’s gotten to the NHL was practicing with Washington Capitals players Mike Green, John Carlson, and Nicklas Backstrom at the team’s KettlerCapitalsIceplex facility in Arlington, Va., during the weeks of the 2012 NHL players lockout.
If Townshend and the JOIHF officials can find more players with Abercrombie’s desire and hockey pedigree, the fledgling program will be off to a good start.
The weekend’s tryout was the first of several to be held in Canada and the U.S. When Jamaica gained associate membership in the International Ice Hockey Federation in 2012, JOIHF officials boldly stated that their goal was to have a team on the ice at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Skillz Hockey’s Cyril Bollers (left) provided his coaching expertise to the Jamaican hockey effort.
But JOIHF officials have since slowed their roll on 2018, acknowledging that they have a lot of work to do on and off the ice before even thinking about the next two or three Winter Games.
“It’s premature to shoot for 2018,” Townshend told me. “Logistically, it would be monumental. We’d have to work our way through the different divisions of the IIHF. We don’t have a rink in Jamaica yet, we have to wait until that’s done. There’s a first step in that process, getting funding for that rink.”
“We have to do it right, cross the T’s and dot the I’s. We have to satisfy the International Ice Hockey Federation’s guidelines.” he continued. “My job is to just keep plugging away and try to get us into competition outside of the International Ice Hockey Federation jurisdiction and just get the word out there, start getting more attention to the program, and once we do that I think the funding will come.”
Cyril Bollers, president and coach of Skillz Hockey, has been named an assistant coach for Ontario’s Under-16 hockey team that will compete in the 2015 CanadaWinter Games.
Cyril Bollers will help map X’s and O’s for Team Ontario at 2015 Canada Winter Games.
Bollers will help Team Ontario Head Coach Drew Bannister,an assistant coach for the Ontario HockeyLeague’s OwenSound Attack, guide a squad of some the province’s best hockey players under 16 years of age at the Winter Games, which are held every four years. David Schlitt, head coach of the Huron-Perth Lakers Minor Midget team, rounds out the Ontario hockey coaching staff.
The 19-event sport festival will be held Feb. 13-March 1, 2015 in Prince George, British Columbia. The games have been a showcase for some of Canada’s best athletes including Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, and Canadian women’s hockey Olympic Gold Medalist Haley Wickenheiser.
“This is wonderful. It’s an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to have been selected,” Bollers said. “I’m just going to go out, try my best and make Ontario proud.”
Bollers is president and head coach of Skillz Hockey and associate coach of the MarkhamMajors Minor Midget AAA team in the Toronto area. He is one of the few coaches of color in organized hockey.
There currently are only two minority head coaches in the NHL – Philadelphia Flyers’CraigBerube and Buffalo SabresTed Nolan, who are both First Nations. Paul Jerrard, who is black, served as an assistant coach for the NHL Dallas Stars last season. He’s an assistant coach this season for the American Hockey League’sUtica Comets, a Vancouver Canucks farm team. Darren Lowe, who is black, coaches the University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s hockey team.
Bollers hopes to join their ranks in the not-to-distant future.
Bollers hopes that he and the kids he’s coached rise in pro hockey.
“After all the years of all the hard work, this is the opportunity that I was looking for,” Bollers said of the Canadian Winter Games appointment. “Once you get this opportunity you have to make the best of it and it could lead to other things.”
Between Markham and his Skillz Black Aces and Black Mafia teams, Bollers has coached a stable of players – minority and white – who’ve gone on to successful major junior hockey careers and positioned themselves to become NHL players.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman Darnell Nurse, the Edmonton Oilers first-round draft pick last summer, Kitchener Rangers forward Justin Bailey, a Buffalo Sabres 2013 second-round pick, and Bellville Bulls defenseman JordanSubban, the Vancouver Canucks’ 2013 fourth-round pick and brother of MontrealCanadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, all played under Bollers.
And more of Bollers’ former players are expected to chosen in the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia this summer. Josh Ho-Sang, a forward for the OHL’s WindsorSpitfires was listed as the 18th best North American skater in the NHL’s mid-term draft rankings last January; Brendan Lemieux, a forward for the OHL’s Barrie Colts and son of retired NHL player Claude Lemieux, was ranked 38th; KeeganIverson, a forward for the Western Hockey League’sPortland Winterhawks, was ranked 64th; Owen Sound Attack forward Jaden Lindo was ranked 96th; and Colts forward Cordell James placed 126th on the NHL list.