(Photo Credit: Andy Devlin/Hockey Canada Images, Metcalfe Photography)
Fans who followed this past week’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta certainly have reason for optimism when surveying the future of Canadian men’s hockey. Canada’s National Under-18 Team played to a perfect 5-0 record to claim a 22nd gold at the annual tournament, providing talented young players a platform to shine before big crowds on national broadcasts.
Among the names to make their mark was Sarnia Sting forward Jamieson Rees, a 17-year-old from Hamilton, Ont. who was the club’s first round (9th overall) pick in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection after leading the Mississauga Reps to an OHL Cup title in his Minor Midget season.
Rees developed great chemistry alongside linemates Ryan Suzuki of the Barrie Colts and Josh Williams of the Medicine Hat Tigers, putting up four points (1-3–4) in five contests while seeing ice in a variety of situations under head coach André Tourigny of the Ottawa 67’s.
As Sportsnet’s Mark Spector described of his impressive play on the international stage, “Rees is that kid who you might not have come to the rink to see, but you leave talking about.”
For Rees, the Under-18 performance comes after an up-and-down season where he overcame injuries and a bout with mononucleosis to end the year, all the while recording a respectable 20 points (5-15–20) over 46 regular season games.
“I had the chance to play on a pretty good team last year, and with so many good players in the lineup you have to be patient and try and earn opportunities,” said Rees of a Sting club that won a franchise record 46 games. “I had a lot of great learning opportunities, being able to watch guys like Jordan Kyrou and Drake Rymsha and how they prepare, think about the game and go about their routine.”
Rees missed the start of the season recovering from a high ankle sprain he suffered at Canada’s National Under-17 Selection Camp, but joined the lineup on October 6th and recorded 10 points in as many games. Not long after, he was sidelined with a high ankle sprain on the other foot, keeping him out for a month.
“The biggest thing in your first year is playing with confidence, and injuries kind of made that an up-and-down thing for me,” he admitted. “Going into next season I want to be able to play with more confidence in the offensive zone, be physically stronger on the puck and not be afraid to hold onto it a little bit longer so I can make a good play.”
Sting general manager Nick Sinclair saw the creative spark in Rees throughout his minor midget season, one where he finished with 40 points (24-16–40) in 32 games and helped the Mississauga Reps become the first wild card entry to ever win the OHL Cup powered by Under Armour.
“His vision, his creativity that we saw before we drafted him shone through as a rookie,” said Sinclair. “Every game there’d be two or three different little plays that he would make or things you would see when he had the puck on his stick. Things the staff would talk about after and the fans would notice and say ‘there’s something special about this kid.’
“When you look at what he did out in Alberta, earning his way onto that Under-18 Team and making a significant contribution to their success, I think we’re starting to see him take that next step,” Sinclair added. “He’s a kid with tremendous character and will and he’s a gamer. He wants to be a difference-maker.”
Rees has spent his summer in Hamilton, working out and playing in a competitive four-on-four league alongside such names as former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jeremy Williams and local OHL talent in Brandon Saigeon and Nick Caamano, both of the Hamilton Bulldogs. He’ll return to Sarnia in a couple weeks to embark on his sophomore season. The probable departure of signed NHL prospects in reigning OHL Player of the Year Jordan Kyrou (St. Louis), Jonathan Ang (Florida), Michael Pezzetta (Montreal) and graduated overager Jordan Ernst will open up valuable minutes for the 5-foot-10 centreman under head coach Derian Hatcher.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity this season,” noted Rees, who is eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft. “Sarnia is a great town with a solid fan base and I have lots of room to grow there.”
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