Norwich Merchants coach Blaine Schell is thrilled with the premiere of Tillsonburg rookies Gus Ford and Brett Parsons.
But he believes the relationship will be one-year engagement rather than a repeat performance.
“I’d love to have both of them back but I suspect because of their talent, both of them will be playing up at least one level next year,” Schell said Friday afternoon via cell phone.
The 16-year-old Parsons’ performance attracted scouting attention from at least two OHL franchises, while the 17-year-old Ford stepped up from midget to lead the perennial Niagara Junior C contending Merchants in scoring, netting a goal in his last game to edge teammate Tom Brady.
“It was not a shock to us,” said Schell of a major and virtually unheard-of scoring step. “The kid has hands like you just don’t see.
“And he’s a kid who seems to move faster when he has the puck.”
Schell fielded the ‘standard’ question about Ford’s stature, with a comment on his competitive nature and a demonstrated ability to excel in a tougher game.
“When the game gets physical, he wills himself to do bester,” credited the Merchants coach.
“All kids can get a little stronger, but he’s got a very high hockey IQ, he’s just an all-around good player.”
Ford is a 17-year-old, 5’8” 173-pound centre, who netted 19 goals and 22 assists during the regular season, to go along with an estimated 36 minutes in penalties.
Admittedly, Ford does set high goals for himself, but leading the team in scoring wasn’t among them.
“I didn’t expect it, but it was very nice.”
He found the transition from midget to Junior C a definite adjustment, both mental and physical.
“You just have to get used to the team and the guys around you.”
The physical nature of the Niagara Junior C was also a transition, says Ford, up against 21-year-old overage players.
“It’s hard to play, but I’m up for it,” he said, adding he believes he plays better when a larger playing is trying to run him. “It just makes me want to play harder and score on them.”
Dealing with larger opponents was part of the equation Ford continued, but so too was dealing with his own size.
“I had to get stronger myself.”
Overall, Ford said the season was productive both from a personal and team perspective. His personal highlight was a scoring triple deke against Aylmer, involving a pair of opponents and the goalie.
“That was probably one of the most memorable moment.”
From a team perspective, Ford loves scoring in the post-season.
“It’s a pretty amazing thing in the playoffs when you score, you lift your team and get everybody going.”
Parsons’ offensive production during the regular season was hampered by injury, said Schell.
“But he had a very good year as a 16-year-old in what I call a man’s league.”
Parsons is more solid than one might thing, credited Schell, ‘fairly broad across the chest,’ with OFSAA-level broad jumper’s legs that make him strong on his skates.
“The kid’s just an athlete.”
Speed is also an attribute for Parsons, continued the coach.
“He’s lightning fast, one of the best zero-to-60 accelerations I’ve seen, and I’ve been around this game a long time.
“He can just flat-out go and he has a shot that is Major Junior A in calibre.”
Parsons has the talent and tools to move forward in his hockey career, said Schell, who hopes he will rely on his natural instincts a little more as he progresses.
“He can handle the puck, win battles and skate. Trust in that ability and go.
“Be the aggressor all the time.”
Parsons found the mental challenge provided by older opponents at least equal to the physical one.
“I’m used to all that, the physicality doesn’t really bother me,” said the 16-year-old, 5’10” 180-pound winger. Parsons was converted from the right to the left side this year to take advantage of his right-handed shot on his off wing, finishing with an (unofficial) 10 goals and 10 assists through ‘20-odd’ games along with 28 penalty minutes.
“It wasn’t that hard, just the razzing of being a 16-year-old, the other team goes after you a bit, letting you know they’re older, tougher guys.
“It’s kind of chirpy-chirp.”
His personal highlight was a 6-4 game four victory over New Hamburg, in which he was credited with a hat-trick.
“That was probably the best game I’ve had all year.”
Parsons found Norwich an excellent environment to begin playing junior hockey, and believes C is a good level for a 16-year-old player to start at.
“Loved this year, it was a great experience,” said Parsons, who on the afternoon of a potential elimination game (Norwich trailed New Hamburg 3-2 in the best-of-seven league championship series heading into Friday’s game, and would be eliminated with a 7-4 New Hamburg victory) was hoping to see the post-season extend well beyond that evening. “A great year – hopefully we keep going in the playoffs.”
His focus was squarely on Friday’s game, but Parsons does have hopes of competing at a higher level in 2013-2014, ideally in the OHL, Tier II Junior A with the Lindsay Muskies or with Elmira in Junior B.
“Hopefully something happens there.”
Ford will also explore his options prior to next season.
“I want to go out of Junior C, but if there’s nothing there for me, I will come back to Norwich, that’s for sure.”
Schell would welcome either or both players back with open arms, but as mentioned, just doesn’t believe that will happen.
“There is no question at all they can both play at another level.
“So I’d like to keep seeing them play a little longer this year, if you know what I mean. They’re just great kids, a pleasure to coach – and you can quote me on that for both of them.”