Quinton Byfield recorded 82 points (32 goals, 50 assists) in 45 games last year and was rewarded, just over a week ago, with a second-overall selection by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
During the 1986-87 OHL season, Sudbury native Scott McCrory amassed 150 points (51G, 99A) in 66 games, less than a year after being chosen 250th overall in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft.
A Washington Capitals prospect, the talented sniper was the third from last player to hear his name called that year.
Different era, different game.
In his final year of junior hockey, McCrory captured the Eddy Powers Memorial Trophy as the OHL’s leading scorer, the William Hanley Trophy as most sportsmanlike player, the Red Tilson Trophy as most outstanding player and the George Parson Trophy as most sportsmanlike player at Memorial Cup.
And yet despite finishing second only to Mike Richard in team scoring in his second year of pro hockey with the Baltimore Skipjacks, the Sudbury Minor Hockey Association graduate never managed to break through to the highest hockey league in the world.
“In my era, you had these big 6-foot-3 defencemen and they could just pound away at you,” noted McCrory, who topped out at a height of 5-foot-10. “A guy like Torey Krug, he wouldn’t have played back then. The shorter, skilled defenceman wouldn’t have played, because everyone had to be 6-1, 6-2.”
Such were the behemoths against whom McCrory had to find room to spin his offensive wizardry. Not surprising, and more than anything else, he could excel on the power play. But on a Washington team that featured the likes of Dale Hunter, Bobby Carpenter, Mike Ridley, Michal Pivonka and Bobby Gould, all at centre, during his tenure with the Caps, the local multi-sport talent, who also excelled at both baseball and lacrosse, simply could not crack the lineup.
In his fourth and final year in the AHL, playing with the Rochester Americans, McCrory was struck by the reality of his situation. Scoring six goals in four games, he was named the league’s player of the week. On the road in Adirondack the following Friday, he netted four goals.
Back at home the next night, he was a healthy scratch, accepting the league honour in his dress clothes prior to the game.
“I ran into (Washington executive) David Poile a couple of years ago in San Jose, and he tells me that if I were 19 years old now, with my skill set, he would be giving me a multi-million-dollar, multi-year contract,” said McCrory.
“I’m pissed off, but I really can’t be that pissed off. How many guys can say that they were actually drafted into the NHL? I was fortunate enough to play more than 14 years of pro hockey. I didn’t have to go out and find a job. My job was playing a game that I love.”
And as he mentored his own children — he and wife Beth have five kids, four boys and a girl — McCrory could smile with ease, thinking back to his younger days, that time when he was in the very same shoes as the AAA talent he was now coaching in Oshawa, but a time when everything was so much more simple than it is now.
“What always stood out most for me is the camaraderie of the young guys I grew up with: Kay Whitmore, Peter Hellstrom, Brent Battistelli. I started at Riverside Park, with Eddie Shack’s dad warming my feet. My dad (Gerry McCrory, for whom the Countryside arena in named) started a hockey school to help me out.
“That was a big part of what made me such a good hockey player, spending two to three hours at Bell Grove Arena, doing nothing but skills. Crossovers, skating drills, stick-handling with tennis balls — this is how I honed my skills.”
“I just don’t think we’re very smart with minor hockey now, where we feel the need to play all of these games, to play 12 months of the year,” added the 53-year-old whose hockey journey featured stops in Innsbruck, Germany, Italy, San Francisco and Winnipeg, among others.
As parents of minor midgets across the province scamper about feverishly, searching for any and all opportunities to showcase their budding Connor McDavids, McCrory sounds a cautionary note.
“I didn’t even hire an agent until the day before the OHL draft,” said the current head coach of the Georgetown Raiders of the OJHL.
“Let your kids enjoy the game. I remember my brother (Barry) cut me from the major midgets in my draft year (at that time, OHL teams were allowed to select a maximum of two minor midgets in the first three rounds of the draft). The next year, I was captain of the midget team and we had 10 players drafted.
“Pinehill Coffee Shop (North Bay midget AAA team that captured the national banner in 1984) had 11 or 12, the Sault had eight. We couldn’t even get out of Northern Ontario, but when we would go to tournaments down south, you would have the three of us, battling it out in the end.”
A fourth-round pick of the Generals that summer, McCrory eased his way into the next level of play.
“Kids on my junior team get so nervous because they’re not scoring,” he said. “I remind them that I had three goals at Christmas of my rookie year. I had nine points, and would finish with 33.
“I had to learn how to play against these guys and get confident. I was 162-pound kid, playing against guys like Jeff Chychrun, 6-foot-6 and 198 pounds. I had to learn how to play against these guys.”
More than quadrupling his point total in his sophomore year — McCrory recorded 132 points in 1985-86 — the man who was inducted into the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame in 2018 was part of a power-play unit with the Generals that still ranks among the most proficient of all time.
And while these accolades were not enough to get him more than a sniff of the Show, it most certainly paved the way to a more than memorable life in hockey.
“Innsbruck was gorgeous — we lived right at the bottom of the hill for the women’s Olympic downhill race,” he said. “And I loved playing in San Francisco. Just the history of that city, loads of golfing on prestigious courses — living on the west coast was unbelievable.”
If only it had come one generation later.
Randy Pascal’s Nickel City Nostalgia column runs weekly in The Sudbury Star.