Before he was breaking records as a Kingston Frontenacs rookie, Shane Wright took to the ice at last year’s OHL Cup powered by Under Armour showcase hungry for a taste of the OHL experience.
It was a transition of sorts; bridging the gap to the next phase in his hockey career as the fifth-ever player to have been granted exceptional status. He wanted to take it all in: the atmosphere, the speed.
“They packed up Scotiabank Pond pretty well,” he recalls of the event’s attendance.
Of course, he was also there to win. Coming off a 150-point regular season with the GTHL champion Don Mills Flyers that had earned him GTHL Player of the Year recognition, winning the OHL Cup – or the “biggest stage of minor midget” as he described it – was naturally Wright’s next target.
The Flyers would ultimately overcome a 4-1 deficit to defeat the Toronto Red Wings 6-5 in overtime, claiming their first ever OHL Cup championship. Wright led the tournament with 18 points, including the feed to teammate Brennan Othmann for the overtime winner.
“Clarkey made a nice play to me. I just tried to go for the puck, pick it up, create a little confusion and then just find [Othmann] backdoor for the shot,” said Wright, walking through the play.
Coupled with the sensational win, the former first overall draft pick fondly recollects his first time playing in front of the larger crowds. He recalls the fast-paced level of hockey and the energy in the rink, crediting the full experience with preparing him for that OHL leap, especially as a 15-year-old.
“The games were fast-paced, just like the OHL is,” he remembered.
“There were obviously different teams and different players but the atmosphere around the rinks is the same as the OHL atmosphere. I feel like in that sense it really set me up for success.”
Successful would be a fitting way to describe the Burlington native’s first year in the league, having collected a number of milestones along the way. He posted a new Frontenacs franchise record for rookie goals when he notched his 39th on the tail end of his first OHL hat-trick. He led all CHL rookies with a 66-point production over 58 games, tying Connor McDavid’s rookie total with the Erie Otters in 2012-13; a feat McDavid achieved in 63 games. Ahead of his 16th birthday, he was awarded an A on his sweater as the youngest CHL player in history to be named to a leadership team.
Wright has lived up to his exceptional label, and on top of all his achievements, he’s had the opportunity to play alongside his past and present teammate Francesco Arcuri.
“He’s a special player as well so it’s pretty nice we both got drafted to the same team,” he said of the fellow Frontenacs rookie.
That OHL Cup experience is something he feels lucky to have shared with Arcuri.
“Obviously it’s not something either of us are going to forget throughout our lives,” he said.
The Flyers boasted a decorated lineup that featured a handful of future high OHL picks in Othmann (Flint Firebirds), Brandt Clarke (Barrie Colts), and Liam Arnsby (North Bay Battalion). While finding comfort in having Arcuri nearby, Wright said playing against the others was one of the weirder parts of the adjustment.
“It’s a little bit weird, after playing with those guys on the same team for so many years, to now have a different jersey as them,” said Wright of facing off against his former teammates. “Battling against them is obviously a little different but we’ll always have that shared memory of the OHL Cup and winning it.”
Wright earned MVP honours at last year’s tournament, and his 18-point total put him only one point back of McDavid’s record-setting total with the Toronto Marlboros in 2012.
Between their shared exceptional status, similar point totals and undeniable skill, comparisons between McDavid and Wright aren’t surprising at this point. But the allure of being so closely associated with the Edmonton Oilers phenom hasn’t appeared to have worn off.
“He’s a guy I look up to,” Wright said. “I watch him on TV. I watch clips of him. To be able to have my name wrapped around his is special.”