Sean Day has never lived in Canada and, depending upon where his hockey future takes him, may never do so. But when it comes to his hockey life, he’s red and white without the blue. And that always would have been the case, despite what conspiracy theorists might think.
There was a notion that the 15-year-old Day was granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada, which makes him eligible to play in the Ontario League as an underage player next season, because if he had been turned down, he would have pursued American citizenship and would have been lost to Canada’s program for future international competition.
“Let me just be clear: that never entered our minds,” said Day’s father, Keith. “Sean wants to play for Hockey Canada one day. He wants to wear a Canadian sweater and be representing Canada. That was never an option.”
It conceivably could have been an option because Day was born in Belgium to Canadian parents, then spent the first three years of his life in Singapore before moving to the Detroit suburbs where he has played all his minor hockey. Both Day’s parents have green cards, which allow them to live and work in the United States, but none of the family members has ever pursued dual citizenship. And while Day has not taken up residence in Canada, he feels as though his roots are north of the 49th parallel.
“My whole family is Canadian and every single one of my family lives in Canada except for my parents and my brothers and me,” Day said. “We go up and see them all the time. In spring tournaments, I’ve played for Toronto teams and I get to know all these kids. It’s great hockey and I love being a part of it.”
Day becomes the fourth player – after John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid – to earn exceptional status to play major junior hockey a year early and the third in three straight years. The 6-foot-4, 194-pound defenseman who compares himself to Paul Coffey played with the Detroit Compuware minor midgets and posted 11-24-35 totals this season as a defenseman and was plus-47.
But just how exceptional is Day? There was some speculation he might not receive exceptional status because there is a chance that neither the Ottawa 67’s nor the Erie Otters, who own the first two picks in the OHL draft April 6, intend to choose Day. And one scout who has seen the other three exceptional players in their junior draft years said Day is not at their level.
“From what I saw, he was nowhere near a player who dominated at his level of competition,” the scout said. “Not even close.”
But there is no disputing Day’s skating ability. By all accounts, he’s an effortless skater who will be among the best skaters in the league as soon as he begins playing. And according to both the father and the son, even though Day was playing a year ahead of his age, he decided to pursue exceptional status because he needs more of a challenge.
“Halfway through the year, it almost seemed like I didn’t have to try as hard,” he said. “I was outdoing my opponents and I felt like I needed to move up more. I told (my parents), ‘I feel like I was last year. I feel like I’m not even trying right now.’”
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.