Historically, the Montreal Canadiens have been known as one of the classiest organizations in sports – they’re the franchise of Jean Beliveau, after all. And while I wouldn’t dare compare Nick Suzuki to Beliveau at this point, the Habs prospect does play the game the right way – and always keeps his nose clean.
Suzuki is currently ripping up the OHL playoffs, where his Guelph Storm are tied 2-2 with the Ottawa 67’s in the championship series. In Game 4, Suzuki set a franchise record with his 36th point of the playoffs (Martin St-Pierre had 35 back in 2003-04) while pretty much doing everything as the team’s No. 1 center. Not only did he drive the offense, but he killed penalties, drew penalties and helped shut down Ottawa’s incredibly dangerous line of Tye Felhaber (Dallas), Marco Rossi (2020 draft) and veteran Austen Keating.
Suzuki centered a line with big, strong wingers Isaac Ratcliffe (Philadelphia) and MacKenzie Entwistle (Chicago) and that trio dominated possession.
“They had the puck and that’s the key,” said Guelph coach George Burnett. “When they have the puck they wear other teams down and they can give us a real momentum swing. They’re big, they’re quick and they’re skilled. We recognize the guys they are matched up against are equally skilled and strong and if (the 67’s) don’t have the puck, they can’t be effective in our end.”
Suzuki even caught Felhaber with a stiff hit in the third period that momentarily stung the Dallas prospect, which is kind of amusing because Suzuki’s not usually a physically punishing player. In fact, he just won his record third-straight William Hanley Trophy as the OHL’s most sportsmanlike player of the year.
“I never imagined I would win three of them, but it’s a huge honor,” Suzuki said. “I really hold myself accountable to be sportsmanlike out there and not take too many penalties.”
To say that Guelph’s run to the OHL final was unexpected would be an understatement. Sure, the team has a lot of talent, but the Storm was down 3-0 in its second-round series against London, only to force a Game 7, fall behind 3-1 in that game, then come from behind to win 6-3. In the third round, Saginaw went up 2-0 in the series, but star goalie Ivan Prosvetov (Arizona) earned a five-game suspension for batting the puck into the crowd: Guelph ended up winning in seven games.
So of course Ottawa won the first two games of the final against the Storm before 67’s star goalie Michael DiPietro (Vancouver) got hurt – though he could be back for Game 5. Throughout it all, Guelph has remained on task.
“It’s the whole character in our room, we have a ton of leadership,” Suzuki said. “Guys who have been in big games, guys who have been in this situation before. It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen in junior hockey and we have to keep it going.”
This past summer, Suzuki was a Vegas Golden Knights prospect and the captain of the Owen Sound Attack. His mission was to win an OHL title with the Attack, but obviously circumstances changed on two fronts. First, his rights were dealt from Vegas to Montreal as part of the Max Pacioretty trade, then he was part of a blockbuster OHL deal after the world juniors that also included Los Angeles Kings prospect Sean Durzi coming to Guelph.
The adjustment was pretty easy for Suzuki – not only did he come over with two other players from the Attack (left winger Zach Roberts rounding out the trio), but he had known Ratcliffe and Arizona pick Nate Schnarr since they were all little kids.
As for his line, it’s another interesting chemistry experiment. While Ratcliffe has played his entire junior career in Guelph, Entwistle was another trade acquisition this season, coming over from Hamilton after winning an OHL title with the Bulldogs last season. So three guys who played for three different teams in the first half of the season are now dominating together.
“I’ve known Isaac since I was seven, so that was a pretty easy transition,” Suzuki said. “And we got to play with MacKenzie on different Hockey Canada teams – I played with him at (Hlinka tournament) U18s and world juniors and ‘Ratty’ played with him at U17s. Both those guys have been great for me.”
And it’s been pretty great for Suzuki in general lately. While he will always be an historical note for the Golden Knights as one of the franchise’s first three first-round draft selections, the legions of Montreal fans have made him feel very welcome since the Pacioretty trade.
“There has definitely been an uprise of followers and people messaging me on social media,” he said. “The whole support has been awesome – every day throughout the playoffs I’m hearing something from the fans saying I’m doing well and that they can’t wait for me to get to Montreal. To have that is awesome.”
Now, the only thing left this season is to get that elusive championship.