By Nicholas Carafa
Photos by Aaron Bell and Terry Wilson / CHL Images
Stan Drulia played in the OHL in the 1980s and is currently the league’s all-time leading scorer with 479 points. The milestone may never be touched, but Kingston Frontenacs forward Michael Dal Colle is doing his best to reach it.
Dal Colle registered a goal and two assists in the Frontenacs’ 4-0 win over the Niagara Ice Dogs last week and in the process, recorded his 300th OHL point – the first to reach the mark in a Frontenacs uniform.
The accomplishment came 236 games into what has evolved into an illustrious junior hockey career for the former Vaughan Kings forward, who entered the OHL in 2012-13 after being selected seventh overall by the Oshawa Generals the previous spring. Dal Colle was acquired by the Frontenacs on New Year’s Day 2016 in exchange for Robbie Burt and four draft picks, as general manager Doug Gilmour looked to add another weapon to compliment the team’s dynamic duo of Lawson Crouse and Spencer Watson.
Frontenacs head coach Paul McFarland is now in the midst of his second rendezvous with Dal Colle after serving as an assistant coach with the Generals during Dal Colle’s first two seasons. McFarland says reaching the 300-point milestone speaks directly to Dal Colle’s potential.
“It just goes to show his consistency over his four years of junior,” McFarland said of the Richmond Hill native, who was selected fifth overall by the New York Islanders in the 2014 NHL Draft. “He was a great player at 16 and continued to get better and better each and every year. Hopefully he’s not done at 300.”
“He’s a player with elite hockey sense and an unbelievable ability to protect the puck, whether it’s off the rush or rolling out of corners,” added McFarland. “It makes him one of the best offensive players in the league.”
“We’ve had him playing with two other elite players and the three together have had some real good chemistry – they all bring something different to the line and nobody is selfish.”
Any time a trade is made in the OHL, management is going to do their homework. McFarland’s familiarity with Dal Colle’s leadership and work ethic from their time in Oshawa allowed Gilmour and Darren Kelly, director of hockey operations, to pull off a trade of significant magnitude in order to improve the Eastern Conference’s top team (40-15-2-2, 84 points).
The Frontenacs, Barrie Colts (36-20-0-2, 74 points) and North Bay Battalion (31-19-5-4, 71 points) are the only Eastern Conference teams to already clinch a playoff spot. While a second J. Ross Robertson Cup and Memorial Cup would add another bullet to Dal Colle’s resume, the focus at season’s end will be cracking a spot on the Islanders’ roster for the 2016-17 campaign.
The resources are there with mentors like McFarland and Gilmour, but battling the complacencies that can set in during a 68-game season will help Dal Colle make the jump when the time comes.
“You just have to find ways to continue pushing yourself and work at areas of your game that need to get better – continue to get stronger, bigger, and faster,” McFarland said. “[Dal Colle] has done an unbelievable job coming in here, his work ethic has been great in practice and the weight room and that’s what we expect of a 19-year-old player.”
An elite player’s time and space is always being challenged, the less space they have the harder it’s going to be to create opportunities. Whether they’re an elite player in the OHL or NHL, these players always find ways to be successful offensively.
Being that good isn’t always easy, but there are constant outlets for Dal Colle to work through the tough stretches as long he stays focused on looking forward, not backwards.