It wasn’t over until it was over for Landon McCallum.
The Delhi native and member of the Sudbury Wolves always knew it was a possibility that there wouldn’t be a 2020-21 Ontario Hockey League season due to the COVID-19 pandemic but that didn’t stop him from training as if a return was imminent.
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“In the back of my head I didn’t really think they were going to start but I was always telling myself in the gym and on the ice, ‘We’re going to start, we’re going to start,’” the former Brantford Minor Hockey Association player said.
“I feel like a lot of guys thought, ‘Oh we’re not going to start so I’ll just go out here, shoot some pucks around, get a sweat going and get off.’ You never want to get in that mindset.
“I was working my (butt) off and treating every day like I was going to go to camp the next day.”
Even with the next OHL season months away, McCallum said he is determined to improve on his rookie season with the Wolves.
Selected in the first round (15th overall) by Sudbury in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection, McCallum’s rookie season with the Wolves wasn’t what he expected offensively as he registered two goals and four assists in 52 games.
That was after he registered 17 goals and 32 assists in 31 games with the BMHA’s minor midget AAA 99ers.
One of the biggest obstacles he faced that first season was his size. Playing at five-foot-10 and 154 pounds, McCallum was going up against much older players in the OHL, many of them coming in at more than six-feet tall and 200 pounds.
“I thought that was maybe my biggest issue of why I didn’t succeed as much as I thought I could have in my rookie year because I was getting pushed off pucks,” the forward said.
“I don’t want to use that as an excuse but … ”
When the 2019-20 season was put on pause and eventually cancelled, McCallum wasted no time working to resolve that issue.
“I was going seven days at the gym because I knew I needed it because I was light,” he said of the work he put in at ‘The Shed’ in Ingersoll with Athlete Farm Training’s Luke Van Moerkerke.
“I was eating a ton at home.”
That paid off because McCallum is now a solid six feet and 178 pounds.
McCallum credited Van Moerkerke with helping him put on more muscle. And, during last summer, Brantford skating instructor Andrew Fritsch was instrumental with pushing him further on the ice, he said..
During the pandemic, when protocols allowed, McCallum’s improved physique showed when he was able to hold his own during skates in London with Knights players and other OHL skaters.
Throughout the winter, McCallum continued to work hard on and off the ice when protocols allowed. He’s now busy staying in shape another way – working on his uncle’s tobacco farm.
He’s confident the OHL season will begin in September, as usual, and he’ll be able to show off the results from his hard work.
“I think if things stay on track here and we get vaccines going, maybe we don’t have fans for the first bit of the year but I think we start on time,” he said.
That’s a good thing because next season will be a big one.
McCallum will be looking to help the Wolves earn a Memorial Cup championship but for himself, personally, there’s the National Hockey League draft.
He is eligible for this year’s draft – scheduled online for July 23 and 24 – but will be one of the youngest players eligible. The NHL cutoff date for players eligible to be drafted in 2021 is Sept. 15, 2003, and his birthday is Sept. 5.
If he doesn’t get drafted this time around, he’ll be eligible next season and will look at his future a bit differently while maintaining the work ethic that has got him this far.
“If I don’t get drafted this summer I have to look at it as a marathon not a (sprint),” he said.
“Scouts know that I didn’t play this year so if I don’t go I just have to prove myself when I play. If I play good enough, I think I’ll get drafted in my second year of eligibility which, really in the end, doesn’t’ make a difference.
“It’s like the OHL draft. It doesn’t really matter where you get drafted it’s what you do once you get drafted.”