Congratulations to Quinton Byfield for being the first overall pick Saturday in the Ontario Hockey League’s Priority Selection draft.
The 15-year-old center from Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, was chosen by the Sudbury Wolves after he put up monster numbers for the York Simco Express, a minor midget AAA team, in the 2017-18 season: 48 goals and 44 assists in 34 games.
Quinton Byfield’s combination of size and scoring touch made him an easy Number One draft choice for the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves (Photo/Aaron Bell/OHL Images).
Only forwards Steven Stamkos (2.98) of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Taylor Hall (2.88) of the New Jersey Devils had better marks in their minor midget careers.
“He is an exceptional player with a great future and his potential is amazing and our coaching staff is eager to work with him,” Rob Papineau, the Wolves’ vice president of hockey operations and general manager said of the 6-foot-4, 203-pound Byfield. “Our scouting staff has been unanimous on Quinton as the best player in the draft all season and we know that the fans and people of Greater Sudbury are going to love the opportunity to watch such a special player in a Wolves uniform.”
Byfield said he’s ready to go out and prove that the Wolves made the right choice.
“I’ll do good with the pressure,” Byfield told reporters. “It will always be making me want to step up my game, face new challenges and I think it will be great for me.”
Saturday’s draft was merely a formality for Byfield. He knew that he’d be Sudbury’s pick and addressed the media about it on Friday.
“It feels really great, especially coming to Sudbury, it’s a great organization, great staff and everything, I feel like it will be a great fit for me playing with all the great players they have here,” he told reporters Friday.
The Wolves are a major junior team in the OHL, a 20-team league where young players showcase their talents in hopes of being drafted by a National Hockey League team once they turn 18 or older.
Quinton Byfiled says he thrives under pressure. The Number One overall pick in the OHL Priority Selection Draft will get to prove that for the Sudbury Wolves (Photo/Aaron Bell/OHL Images).
“We put in place a goal to be a Memorial Cup contender with our mission being to develop 15-year-old boys into professional gentlemen of character when they leave our program,” Wolves Owner and Governor Dario Zulich said in a statement. “Quinton represents a significant step forward.”
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Yushiro Hirano has taken the term “road trip” to a new level.
The 20-year-old right wing left Hokkaido, Japan, last year to play hockey in Tingsryds, Sweden, some 4,683 miles away from his island home.
This year, Hirano’s pursuit of a National Hockey League career has taken him nearly 5,960 miles from home to Ohio, where he made history over the weekend as a member of the Youngstown Phantoms. Skating in the Phantoms’ season-opening 6-4 loss to Team USA Saturday, Hirano became the United States Hockey League’s first player born in Japan.
Ohio is Japan’s Yushiro Hirano’s new hockey home (Photo/Bill Paterson).
“I’m happy because I feel there is a responsibility for me to represent Japan well,” Hirano said when asked in an e-mail exchange about making the Phantoms roster. “I hope to grow the game in Japan and make everybody proud. I also want to play well enough to get to the professional ranks here in the United States.”
Joining the Phantoms capped an excellent hockey summer for Hirano. Before he tried out for the USHL team, he attended the Chicago Blackhawks development camp in July as a free agent invitee.
Hirano attended the Chicago Blackhawks development camp before joining the Phantoms (Photo/Bill Paterson).
The Hawks learned about Hirano through Andrew Allen, who was a developmental goaltending coach in the Chicago organization before becoming the Buffalo Sabres’ goalie coach this season. Allen knew of Hirano because he served as goaltending coach and developmental coach for Japan’s national team.
The son of a former Team Japan player, Hirano compiled an impressive numbers in Japan and Sweden. He tallied 12 goals and 14 assists in 26 games for Tingsryds’ junior team last season.
He collected 6 goals and 2 assists in 5 games as captain for Japan’s Under-20 team playing in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Junior Championship in the D1B Division in 2014-15. He also notched 3 goals in 5 games for Team Japan’s men’s squad in the IIHF world championship D1A Division last season.
But Hirano – whose first name is sometimes spelled Yushiroh – wasn’t widely known in North America because Japan isn’t a hockey power. Its men’s team is 21st in IIHF rankings. The women’s team is ranked eighth internationally and competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The squad played hard in Russia, but didn’t win a game.
With a baseball and soccer-obsessed population of 127,103,388, Japan has 19,260 hockey players – 9,641 men, 6,996 juniors, and 2,623 women – playing on 120 outdoor rinks and 110 indoor ice sheets.
“It is still a minor sport in Japan, but more people have been watching and following hockey in the United States, which will only help the game,” Hirano told me.
So how did Hirano wind up in Youngstown? Tingsryds team management emailed Phantoms CEO and Co-Owner Troy Loney that Hirano might be worth a look.
“He received an email this summer and passed it along to our general manager about a young Japanese player who was looking to pay his own way to come over and try out,” Phantoms Head Coach John Wroblewski told me recently. “I guess there was a little bit of intrigue because he attended Chicago Blackhawks rookie camp as well this summer, but we knew nothing about him when the emails started coming around.”
It didn’t take long for the 6-foot, 200-pound Hirano to impress Wroblewski.
“He’s a big kid, very strong and sturdy,” he said. “He looks a lot like some of the pro players I dealt with the last few years. This leads into him being able to shoot the puck extremely hard. Tremendous accurate shot, very, very heavy shot. Those are the things that stuck out right away.”
Hirano is one of the Phantoms’ top forwards and skates on the power play (Photo/Bill Paterson).
But Wroblewski saw something more in Hirano than a big body and a shot. “His work ethic was the next thing, and the ability to make plays,” he said. “He has quite a bit of vision and the ability to make deft, subtle plays. He works extremely hard away from the puck. If he’s the last guy on a back-check he’s working as hard as if he has it (the puck) going forward.”
Hirano says he’s adjusting to life in North America on and off the ice just fine, though he cites “the language barrier” as the biggest challenge. His coach isn’t so sure about that.
“He’s sneaky, I think he might know a little more than he’s letting on,” Wroblewski said with a laugh. “He understands it very well, he does have to concentrate a little more than the next guy on it, but he does understand it quite nicely. I say that because he picks up on subtlties within drills that really aren’t explained very well. Either he’s really smart, knows a little bit more English than we think, or a combination of both. I think it’s the third scenario.”
The United States Hockey League is the nation’s only Tier 1 junior league and prides itself on being a pathway to college hockey for its players. More than 95 percent of USHL players receive an opportunity to play NCAA Division I hockey.
Hirano, however, is viewing his USHL stint in Youngstown as a stepping stone to the NHL. He hopes to someday play alongside or against his favorite players – Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos, or WashingtonCapitals superstar Alex Ovechkin.
“I’m nowhere close to the (NHL) level yet,” he told The Chicago Tribune in July. “I’d like to keep improving, but if I do get there, it’d be a huge impact for kids in Japan. They’d have a legitimate dream they could look up to and strive for.”
Wroblewski believes that Hirano’s dream isn’t an impossible one.
“In this short time, if his learning curve continues on this pace, on the degree it has thus far, there’s no telling how much he can get done here,” he said. “His straight ahead speed has to improve, there’s definitely a skating factor that the NHL desires, but his ability to play with others and put the puck in the net is pretty special.”
What fans watching the final probably won’t see are two coaches of color who’ve been vital behind the scenes to the Lightning’s quest for the Cup.
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie coach Frantz Jean.
Frantz Jean is the Lightning goalie coach who puts starting netminder Ben Bishopand backup Andrei Vasilevskiy through their paces in practice and strives to keep them on an even keel during the emotional rollercoaster that is the playoffs.
“From our perspective, Ben’s doing nothing different,” Jean told The Tampa Tribune earlier in May. “Except now he’s on a bigger stage.”
Bishop heads into the Stanley Cup Final with a 12-8 playoff record, 2.15 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. During the 2014-15 regular season, Bishop won 40 games, fourth-best among NHL goalies, and lost only 13 contests. His 2.32 goals-against average was 15th best in the league.
Jean has presided over the Lightning organization’s goaltending since 2010. Under his tutelage, Tampa Bay goaltending prospects playing for the AHL Norfolk Admirals and ECHLFlorida Everblades vied for league championships in 2012.
Then-Lightning property Dustin Tokarski– now with the Montreal Canadiens – finished the 2012 AHL playoffs with the best save percentage and goal-against average and led the league with 32 wins in the 2011-12 regular season.
Jean joined the Lightning organization after coaching for 12 years with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. His Moncton netminders allowed the fewest goals in the league in the 1999-00, 2005-06, 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.
A Montreal native, Jean coached goalies on Hockey Canada’s Under-18 teams that won Gold Medals at Ivan Hlinka Memorial International Tournaments in 2009 and 2010.
In the six degrees of separation of the hockey world, Jean can take some credit if the Blackhawks defeat his Lightning for the Stanley Cup. He coached Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawfordat Moncton.
“I’ve seen him grow from a teen to a man,” Jean told CSN Chicago recently. “When I see the work he had to go into the minors, to pay his dues and learn to be a consistent goaltender and then to be able to duplicate that in the pros, I’m very proud of him.”
Crawford is apparently still fond of his old coach. “A great coach, an awesome guy,” he told The Tampa Times in 2013. “He was great technique-wise, and for my mental game, taking care of myself and learning that aspect, too, getting rest at the right time. He definitely helped me moving on to pro hockey.”
Lightning video coach Nigel Kirwan.
Jean is a newcomer to the Lightning when compared to video coach Nigel Kirwan. He’s been with the ‘Bolts since the team’s inaugural season in 1992. He worked in the Lightning’s ticket sales office before then-Head Coach Terry Crisp made him a video coach in the 1996-97 season.
Initially, he thought Crisp’s job offer was a joke.
“I basically told him to go fly a kite,” Kirwan told TampaBayLightning.com in 2012. “Crispy was a prankster and loved to rile the office up so my immediate reaction was that he was trying to get me going. I also had a report due to my boss that was already late so I told him to just get out of my office.”
But Crisp, now a studio analyst for the Nashville Predators, pressed Kirwan because “I saw something in him,” he told TampaBayLightning.com. “He knew the game, he loved the game, and his personality fit right in with our staff. He fit right in like a hand in a glove,” Crisp added.
Now Kirwan serves as a keen set of eyes for Tampa Bay’s coaching staff and players. He breaks down pre-scout and game film and helps formulate scouting reports on opposing players. He performed the same tasks for Team USA at the 2008 and 2009 International IceHockey Federation World Championships.
Born in Jamaica and raised in Winnipeg, Kirwan hoisted the Stanley Cup when the Lightning won it in 2004. Only the Blackhawks stand in the way of him doing it again.