It was one thing for Chase Stillman, his father Cory and grandfather Bud to pursue their hockey dreams in the same city.
To do it with the same team would be even more special.
Stillman moved one step closer to that reality when the skilled, speedy centre became a second-round pick of the Sudbury Wolves, for whom his father serves as head coach and his grandfather as an assistant, during the OHL Priority Selection on Saturday.
“It’s super exciting,” said Stillman, reached a shot time later. “There’s a lot to look forward to right now.”
A 5-foot-10, 155-pounder born in St. Louis and a dual Canada-U.S. citizen, Stillman wasn’t necessarily a lock to by drafted by the Wolves, and not only because of his commitment to Providence College.
A superb season with the Sudbury Wolves minor midgets, combined with his appearance with Team Ontario at the Canada Winter Games, his identification as one of the top 40 prospects for the United States national under-17 team and, more recently, an impressive showing as an affiliate with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians of the NOJHL, had many wondering if another team might scoop Stillman up before the Wolves could draft him.
“You never know, with the draft,” Stillman said. “People might say you’re going high and you go a lot later, so I was just trying to keep a level head throughout the whole thing and wherever I go, to look forward to going there and going to rookie camp.
“It’s a wild time and I was just trying to stay positive through it.”
Stillman’s selection at 25th overall was the first in a string of successes for members of the Sudbury minor midget team, which saw nine of its players drafted, and part of a banner day for Northern Ontario in general, as 13 players from Team NOHA’s entry in the recent OHL Cup were selected in total, beginning with North Bay goalie Ben Gaudreau to Sarnia at seventh overall and Sault Ste. Marie defenceman Jack Matier to Ottawa in the 22nd spot.
Sudbury’s Max McCue went in the second round, 34th overall to the London Knights, followed by Zacharie Giroux in the third, 57th overall to the Flint Firebirds, then Mitchell Martin in the fourth, 81st overall to the Kitchener Rangers, Josh Kavanagh in the fifth, 93rd overall to Peterborough, Cameron Walker in the ninth, 164th overall to Kingston, Devon Savignac in the ninth, 171st overall to North Bay, Chris Innes in the 12th, 229th overall to Sarnia, and Bradley Brunet in the 13th, 259th overall to Niagara.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” Stillman said. “I think it may be one of the best drafts Sudbury has ever had.”
Stillman wondered what the reaction might be among Wolves fans to his own selection, as well as the fact he may be playing for members of his family, but he’s determined to win over any doubters.
“I hope they’re going to be OK with it, because I think I deserve to be here,” he said. “I think it’s going to be fun and I hope we can work together well as a father-son relationship on the bench, and I think the guys will be OK with it as long as I work hard and earn my respect there. I think it will work out.”
Rob Papineau, the Wolves’ general manager and vice-president of hockey operations, said it was a no-brainer for the Wolves to take the younger Stillman early among their 16 draft picks.
“He wasn’t just a guy that the Sudbury Wolves wanted,” Papineau said. “There were 20 OHL teams that all had this guy very high on their list. He was a guy picked to play as one of 12 forwards in all of Ontario in his age group in the Canada Games and one of a very select group of players invited to the U.S. national development team, which are the top 40 kids in their country. This is a really high-end player and we’re really fortunate to be able to get him in the second round.”
Despite his apparent enthusiasm for playing in the OHL, Stillman added that the booked hasn’t closed on his college commitment.
“We’re just going to have some more family discussions as it continues,” he said. “I know the time is coming where I have to narrow it down, but I’m definitely not ruling out the NCAA.”
He does plan to attend Sudbury’s rookie camp later this spring.
“I just have to make sure I continue in the gym, to keep working every day and to be consistent, to be responsible with my eating,” Stillman said. “I have to make sure I’m pro ready, that I do things as a pro.”
His father and grandfather will continue to be excellent sources of advice, as will his older brother, Florida Panthers prospect Riley Stillman.
“They have been through the whole thing and they have been very helpful,” Stillman said. “They have helped me my whole life, with my career, school and everything outside of hockey.”
McCue also got an assist from his father on draft day. Checking the draft results periodically on his phone, his attention was diverted elsewhere when his dad, Mark, saw the announcement on TV and alerted his son.
“They said Max McCue and we just went in for a hug,” said McCue, reached en route to London, where he was to meet with staff on Sunday and watch the Knights’ playoff game against Guelph. “It was pretty exciting. This is a team that I would most like to play with, so I’m just really excited to get chosen by them and to start.”
He thanked his coaches and his teammates for their parts in what was a key development year.
“All of the boys, we have a chat and everyone’s saying congrats,” McCue said. “I’m hoping to say congrats to the rest of the boys, too.”
He didn’t have to wait long in Giroux’s case, as the diminutive, yet hard-working winger was selected only 23 picks later by the Flint Firebirds.
Another prospect with family ties to the league, his brother, Damien Giroux, serves as captain for the rival Saginaw Spirit.
“He’s already texting me, saying there’s going to be a rivalry between us, the I-75 divisional cup,” the younger Giroux said. “I can’t wait to be a part of that.
“His first text was, ‘You want to drop the gloves first shift?’ ”
Sibling rivalries aside, Saturday’s selection was cause for celebration around the Giroux household.
“To be honest, it was a relief, to just see my name pop up like that in front of my family and friends here at my house, it was a huge relief, and full of happiness,” he said. “There was lots of screaming and yelling and jumping up and down, for sure.”
It was a fitting way to cap what was a strong season for the 5-foot-4, 135-pounder from Hanmer, but one that wasn’t without its challenges.
“I had to adjust to getting put on the wing with some good linemates, Chase and Bradley Brunet, and just adjusting, doing little things on the wing, getting the puck out, moving my feet as soon as I get the puck on the boards, that kind of thing, to help my game improve during the year.”
And between a few teasing texts, Damien also proved an invaluable resource.
“The stuff he has been saying about the OHL is unbelievable,” Giroux said. “I’m glad to hear my name and to be part of it.”