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Scheifele has suitors 0

GENE PEREIRA - Special to the Examiner

Mark Scheifele thought he had it all planned out last summer.

Originally a seventh-round pick of the Saginaw Spirit in 2009, the young centre had made up his mind that the U.S. college route was the way to go.

First he would play Tier II Jr. 'A' hockey in Huntsville and then move on to Cornell University and make good on a hockey scholarship being offered by the Ivy League school.

Then, early last September, the Barrie Colts acquired Scheifele in a deal with the Spirit. After a sit-down with head coach Dale Hawerchuk and the Colts brass, his earlier plans would take a major turn.

Scheifele agreed to put aside school and come to Barrie.

Suddenly, he found himself heading in a new direction, one that would eventually lead him to St. Paul, Minn., this weekend as one of the top prospects in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

"I definitely feel that coming to Barrie was the best option," said the 18-year-old Kitchener native, who heads into the draft ranked 16th overall among North American skaters. "Just to play under Dale's wing, learn all the things under him and to be able to play on a young team and get all the opportunity I did was definitely a great choice.

"Dale and I always talk about it and sometimes he'll chirp me, like 'Imagine if you were in Huntsville right now? You wouldn't be here.'

"It was definitely the right choice."

Things certainly couldn't have worked out much better. Playing on a young and rebuilding Colts team, Scheifele spent most of the season centering the team's top line and, despite often facing the opposition's top lines and checkers, he made the most of the opportunity, racking up 22 goals and 53 assists in 66 games in his rookie season.

The six-foot-two, 177-pound forward's play didn't go unnoticed. For his efforts, Scheifele finished second to Sarnia's Nail Yakupov in the OHL's rookie-of-the-year voting, was named the centre on the OHL's all-rookie second team and played for Canada at the under-18 world championship in Germany in April.

Last Friday, he was one of 46 players invited to Canada's national junior team summer development camp being held Aug. 3-7 in Edmonton and Fort McMurray, Alta.

"This year has definitely gone as planned," said Scheifele, who flew out to Minnesota on Wednesday for the draft with his agent, Rob Hooper of Octagon Athlete Representation.

"I wanted to come in here and make a name for myself," Scheifele said. "In Jr. 'B' and Jr. 'A', it's hard to make a name for yourself, (because) there's just not as much exposure. But this year went perfectly. I worked hard in the summer to be able to be here right now.

"My dream has always been to be a pro and play in the NHL and get drafted. It took a lot of hard work, but I'm happy I did it and I'm happy I'm here right now."

Scheifele's family will be right there beside him on his big day. Father, Brad, mother, Mary Lou, sister, Janelle, 23 and brother Kyle, 20 all headed west Thursday for the draft, which kicks off with the first round on Friday night, followed by six more rounds on Saturday.

A number of Scheifele's friends are also planning to make the trek.

"It's going to be an unreal experience," he said. "I think, even right now, I'm getting a little speechless because it's coming so soon that I can be drafted into the NHL. It's sometimes hard to soak in, but it's getting exciting."

Getting some shut eye lately hasn't been easy for Scheifele, who admits he gets increasingly nervous as the draft draws closer.

"I think my mom will be the most nervous out of all of (my family)," Scheifele said. "But I'll definitely be up there in the nervous factor."

Nonetheless, as he's heard time and time again from his family, agent and those who have been through it, make sure you take it all in and enjoy the process.

"It's going to be the best weekend I've ever had in my life," said Scheifele, who had a scheduled meeting on Wednesday with one NHL club and five more on Thursday. "Just the opportunity to be there and be where all the NHL people are and all the top prospects in the world ... it's going to be an unreal experience and I'm just going to try and soak it in and enjoy every moment of it."

Heck, Scheifele even went out and bought a new suit for the big day.

"Look for it," he quipped.

It has been non-stop for Scheifele since the Colts season ended in mid-March, with the worlds in Germany, off-season workouts and then being one of 61 players invited to the 2011 NHL combine in Toronto where top prospects for this year's draft are put through rigorous tests in front of pro scouts.

"It was actually really tough," Scheifele said of the combine. "The fitness testing was probably one of the toughest things I've gone through. It's a real bagger. They put you through so much and you basically have no rest time. It's one after the other for the tests, so it was tough.

"I thought I was definitely ready for it," he added. "I trained hard and have been training hard since I got back from Germany. I thought I did pretty good."

While Scheifele enjoyed a successful season on a personal level, the Colts (15-49-2-2) endured their worst season in franchise history, finishing dead last in the OHL.

Scheifele leaned heavily on his Hockey Hall of Fame head coach. And why not? He understands that if anyone knows what it takes to the get to the NHL, it's Hawerchuk. So Scheifele was more than happy to have the former Winnipeg Jets superstar take him under his wing this season.

"It's unreal to have him here," Scheifele said. "He's helped me with so much this year, on and off the ice. He's taught me (lots).

"He's coming down to the draft, I'm pretty sure, and I'm having lunch with him. It'll be great to talk to him, just to hear stories about when he was at the draft and back in his day (1981).

"He was definitely a big help this year. He's probably been the best coach I've ever had. I loved having him as a coach this year."

Scheifele has no idea who will select him or where he'll go in the draft. Some experts have him going as high as 12th overall, while others have him rated as low as 40th, which would take him into the second round.

The general consensus is that Scheifele will hear his name called out somewhere between 10th and 20th.

The Barrie Colt doesn't care what team selects him.

"Any team, just to get the opportunity," said Scheifele, who grew up a Detroit Red Wings fan and idolized captain Steve Yzerman. "Actually, to get drafted is an unreal feeling and an unreal experience, so any team, really."

For the most part, Scheifele has tried to put aside all those draft-day predictions.

"I try to block it out of my mind as much as possible," he said. "It's hard not to listen to, but you have to put it in the back of your mind and just hope you're going to be drafted and you're going to get that opportunity to show what you can do."

Scheifele's Barrie teammates have also been wishing him well and keep things light heading into his big day. Even this year's first overall OHL pick, Aaron Ekblad, wished him well, sending him a text congratulating him on being chosen for the national junior team camp.

"It shows what a classy guy he is and that he's going to be a great player and leader in the upcoming years," Scheifele said of the young defenceman.

Others such as goaltender Clint Windsor have even tried to help Scheifele figure out exactly which team will call his name.

"Clint was talking about the Pierre McGuire (of TSN) mock draft and how we have to make our own," said Scheifele, adding a chuckle. "It's fun to talk to them about that stuff."

ICE CHIPS

- Live coverage of the draft is on TSN, starting Friday at 7 p.m.

- If Scheifele is selected in the first round, as expected, it'll be the second straight season the Colts had a player taken in the opening round.

- Atlanta Thrashers (who have since relocated to Winnipeg) drafted Alexander Burmistrov eighth overall last summer.

sports@thebarrieexaminer.com


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