Prep Watch is a new weekly feature on THN.com that focuses on minor hockey prospects destined to become big names in major junior or the NCAA – and hopefully one day, the NHL.
About 25 minutes southwest of Regina lies the village of Wilcox, Sask. The population is only 200-plus people, but if you’re looking to see future NHLers, Wilcox is the place to find them.
From Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards to Rod Brind’Amour and Curtis Joseph, a disproportionate amount of stars have come through Wilcox, thanks to the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, home of the Hounds prep team.
Last season, the Hounds were led by what turned out to be the top two picks in the Quebec League draft: defenseman Brandon Gormley and left winger Sean Couturier. This year, word is getting out about 6-foot-2, 195-pound blueliner Justin Sefton, a big bruiser who also possesses a skill game. When asked about his game philosophy, the 15-year-old is blunt and to the point:
“Fast and physical,” said Sefton, who counts Dion Phaneuf as a role model.
Originally from Thunder Bay, Ont., Sefton is now making life miserable for opponents in the prairies.
“He’s not fun to play against,” said coach and director of hockey development Del Pedrick. “He does a lot of things naturally – he’s a strong boy, a big guy.”
While many young players have to cope with growth spurts in their formative years, Pedrick noted that Sefton has never had a problem with his frame and the results of that ease are obvious on the ice.
Being comfortable in his off-ice environment was also a big reason Sefton made the trek to Notre Dame.
“Coming from Thunder Bay, people think of the Staal family,” Sefton said. “It’s a great place to be, but there are issues that I was glad to get away from, too – gangs and things like that.”
Pedrick noted that maladies such as gangs and drugs have become more common in smaller North American cities as of late and Wilcox brings a respite to those ills.
“Our college is bigger than the town, it’s what kids do here,” Pedrick said. “It allows them to focus; there’s no mall, no 7-11 – it’s a bit of a throwback, just a nice prairie town.”
With a three-pronged mandate – spirituality, education and hockey – Notre Dame brings rigid structure to teens such as Sefton, a routine the defenseman was happy to embrace.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said.
Along with hockey practice and class, Sefton’s days usually involve hitting the gym after school, taking part in mandatory study period after dinner, then hanging out at the rink until curfew, which, as a 15-year-old, is 10 p.m. during the week and 11 p.m. on weekends.
All that hockey time has helped Sefton hone his game, which has developed into an all-around discipline that includes shot-blocking, scoring (he has four goals and six points through nine games) and punishing anyone who crosses him – something he is learning to control.
“We’ve challenged him to be a positive leader,” Pedrick said. “A lot of guys come after him.”
Sefton, who has 40 PIM through nine games, is working on picking his spots.
“I have to learn to take (punishment) for the team,” he said.
In the meantime, there are a lot of teams eager to pick Sefton in the future. Along with being one of the Ontario League’s top draft prospects, the defenseman has caught the eye of the University of Maine, among other schools.
“We told both (the OHL and NCAA) that we’ll see how the year progresses,” Sefton said.
It goes without saying the smart teams will be happy to wait.
Prep Watch, which features minor hockey players destined to become big names in major junior or the NCAA, appears every Thursday, only on thehockeynews.com.
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