BUFFALO – First, try to find Strathclair on the map. Then scroll through the photos that are offered to you.
An old church, a post office where telegrams are probably still sent, a cemetery with tombstones scattered around. And fields, very large fields. The kind of place you leave before you even realize you’ve entered it.
This is where Conor Geekie, one of the hottest contenders for the upcoming National League draft, grew up.
It’s not uncommon for players to come out of nowhere to find their way into the big leagues. Three years ago, you were told the story of Dylan Cozens, a prospective Buffalo Sabers first-round pick who hoped to become the fourth Yukon native to play in the NHL (he was once more active there than his three predecessors combined). This year, Rutger McGroarty becomes only the second native from Nebraska, a state best known for its obsession with college football, to be drafted for the Bettman Tour.
Geekie, he can’t really say he’s from a place where hockey is an anomaly. The village of his childhood is in western Manitoba, about halfway between Winnipeg and Regina in the neighboring province.
But neither is Strathclair the “GTA,” the English acronym used to describe the Greater Toronto Area. The last federal census from 2016 put the population at 709 inhabitants. “But that goes for the whole community,” Geekie quickly corrects. For the village, more specifically, “It’s more like 137, I think. »
How does a young athlete manage to emancipate himself to be among the world elite in his age group in a community not populous enough to even fill a section of the Center Bell?
“As far as hockey goes, I wouldn’t say the challenges were too great,” said Geekie, one of his two older brothers who is a Seattle Kraken prospect. I was lucky enough to have the keys to the ice rink. My father was a board member and also took care of the upkeep whenever he could. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the prettiest ice cream. There’s probably cattle on it as we speak! But I think in a way it helped me get better. I developed my creativity by playing with Morgan and Noah or sharing sticks with my friends. We lived two or three blocks away. I consider myself lucky to have had that. »
Geekie recalls with nostalgia his early days on a team of “seven girls and three boys” and how he wanted to get Strathclair “on the map” quickly. He says he learned the virtues of hard work and modesty from his close entourage. His unusual background, he adds, forced him to quickly grasp how things work in the real world.
“Coming from a small place you have to get used to falling for better players than you as you climb the ladder. When I first started playing summer hockey, there were always better players than me. It made me grow »
Available for Canadian?
At the age of 18, who just wrapped up his second season in the Western Junior League (WHL) with 70 points in 63 games, Geekie can still find more talented rivals than he does when he focuses on NHL Draft players eligible the first time. But how many are there exactly? The answer to this question varies greatly from person to person.
According to the official body hired by the NHL to rank their best prospects, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound center player is the fifth-best draft among skaters to play in North America in the past year. This opinion is reflected in the publications of some pundits who see him as a player who shouldn’t be available beyond the top-10 in Montreal next month.
“If there’s one guy in this group that has the potential to be a power forward, it’s him,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. He’s got the size, he’s competitive, he’s not afraid to play in front of the net, he’s good at 1v1 in the back of the territory. He’s a fighter. All he needs now is muscle building. »
Others don’t believe this theory at all, and are quick to predict Geekie’s picks towards the end of the first round. The biggest question mark for them: his skating, which Marr describes as a “construction site.” Our colleague Craig Button, for example, put his name at 29e rank of his final list.
This means there is a world where the Star of Winnipeg Egg would be available when the Canadians make their second pick.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” Geekie replies on the subject. You have to live with that and I try not to let it bother me. I play hockey for fun. When people put your name on lists, it’s nice to see it in the top-5, top-10. But in the end, that’s not why I play hockey. »