Bruins 2011 Draft Watch recently had chats with a couple of solid draft prospects out of the Empire State, winger Shane Prince and defenseman Rob O'Gara.
Prince's season ended in disappointing fashion last month when his No. 2 seed (in the OHL) Ottawa 67's were swept at the hands of the surprising Sudbury Wolves (who got tremendous performances from Michael Sgarbossa and Josh Leivo, a 2011 prospect). Since then, he's had a chance to return to Spencerport, catch a Buffalo Sabres playoff game at HSBC Arena and has been getting his body and mind ready for the NHL Draft Combine early next month.
"I'm training real hard in the gym getting ready to go," Prince said this week. "I'm working on my bench press- improving my upper body strength and doing the bike sprint (VO2 Max) and getting ready to all the tests overall. I always have the combine in the back of my mind when I'm working out, and that pushes me to try and get those extra reps in."
O'Gara, who hails from the Long Island town of Nesconset, hasn't played hockey since early March. That's because on his last shift, he slid a pass over to a streaking forward who got it on net where teammate Sean Okita buried the rebound for what was the prep championship-winning goal in Salem, NH.
"That was just amazing; I have trouble putting it into words sometimes just how awesome it was to be part of such a great team here," O'Gara said recently from his Milton Academy dorm room, where he is finishing up the semester and playing lacrosse to keep his body in peak form. "We went back and watched the DVD of that game (3-2 win over Kent School) and the tempo was unbelievable- the fast pace of that game and how everything was up-and-down the whole time. We went into that third period with the score 2-2 and knowing that we had 18 minutes. It was do or die time and we pulled it off."
Prince is a slashing, playmaking winger who relies on his slippery elusiveness and extreme hockey smarts to pile up the points. He finished second on the 67's in scoring with 88 points behind linemate and Kings prospect Tyler Toffoli, whose 108 points led the entire OHL (tied with Kitchener's Jason Akeson) He's only about 5-11, 180 pounds, and did take some pops this year that caused him to miss 9 games with shoulder ailments and a concussion. He asserts that he's fine and dedicating himself to getting himself in the best possible shape for the combine and then whatever potential development camp opportunity awaits him for whichever NHL club calls his name.
"It's an exciting time for me and my family," he said. "I can't thank them enough for all the support they've given me over the years, and it's neat to think that as the draft approaches, I'm one step closer to that dream of playing in the NHL some day."
O'Gara was not invited to the combine, but said that he's already begun interviewing with NHL teams and is also looking forward to a possible big league destination on draft day.
"It's a little surreal," he said of the attention he's gotten from scouts this season as a big defender with a fluid stride and solid two-way potential. "It's always been a dream of mine to play in the NHL and the possibility of it coming true is pretty incredible. But I have to keep things in perspective. Even if I do get drafted in June, it means that the work is only beginning. Nobody makes an NHL roster just because they get drafted- they have to go out and earn a spot. If that was easy, then everyone who ever got picked in the draft would make it."
O'Gara, who grew up an Islanders fan and still is one despite the hard times, and Prince, an avowed Sabres supporter, would no doubt love to hear their hometown teams call their names. In the end, the draft is about the singular honor of getting an opportunity. No matter where that NHL team calls home, both players are excited about what the future holds.
Prince will likely be back in the OHL to try and avenge the first-round sweep with the 67's while O'Gara will return to Milton for one more season before he takes his game to Yale University in 2012.
In the meantime, however, there's the matter of the NHL draft and the first tentative steps toward future pro hockey careers that need to get settled.