In a recent interview with Jason Gregor, Mark Edwards of Hockeyprospects.com hinted at an upcoming book on probable first round pick Brendan Gaunce of the OHL Belleville Bulls. I was able to track down author John Matisz and ask him a few questions about the book.
Kent Wilson: What can you tell me about how this project got started and how you got involved?
John Matisz: I met Mark at the Memorial Cup in Mississauga last year. We kept in touch over the summer and then re-acquainted at a London Knights game early on in the season. He gave me a call a few days later with an idea he’s had for a couple of years — to follow a top prospect through his draft year and tell the story in book form — and we ran with it.
KW: Why was Brendan settled on as the subject?
JM: For starters, Mark coached against his brother Cameron (Colorado Avalanche prospect now) a few years back, so he knew the family a bit. Then, when we were discussing potential subjects, Brendan came up and it just made sense. He’s a level-headed, intelligent kid that doesn’t give straight "yes" or "no" answers. He has a lot going for him personality-wise. And, of course, his on-ice skills had something to do with our decision, too.
KW: Is the book going to focus exclusively on Brendan or is it written more to give a readers an idea of what most junior prospects go through?
JW: It’s pretty Brendan Gaunce-centric. There’s some more broad content, but that’s mainly based on the Belleville Bulls or other teams Brendan has played for like the Team Canada U-18’s. At the same time, you can take a lot of the material and attach it to other junior players and what they experience in their draft year.
Brendan is going through this year in different circumstances than others, but the majority of the pressures, challenges, triumphs, etc. are similar across the board. There’s plenty of other interview subjects (Gary Roberts, Malcolm Subban, Sean Monahan, etc.) who bring in their own perspectives. The final chapter will be a fly-on-the-wall account of Brendan’s time in Pittsburgh at the draft, with some commentary from the team who drafts him sprinkled in.
KW: What have you learned while writing the book?
JM: One thing that comes to mind right away is how long the process of making the NHL is. Top prospects are groomed from the Atom level onwards, with no summers off. Brendan used to travel across the country and to Europe to play in tournaments when he was 10-13. And it’s also interesting that the majority of players who will be drafted have either played against (growing up in elite tournaments) or played with (internationally) each other. Brendan’s known a few of the top guys in 2012 for most of his hockey-playing life.
KW: Sometimes people forget that NHL junior prospects are teenaged kids. For most people that age, the most stressful things they encounter are tests at school and dating issues. What are some unique challenges an 18-year old athlete like Gaunce faces?
JM: Off the ice, Brendan’s a pretty grounded kid. Often times when we talk on the phone he’s just gotten in from a movie with the guys or finishing off some homework. To be honest, most of the challenges derive from hockey since it’s such a big part of his life. It’s incredible how much time and effort junior hockey players put into a season. There is one major event in his personal life that is a big theme in the book, but I’ll leave that to the imagination for now.
KW: How would you describe Gaunce as a player? As a person?
JM: As a player, the first thing that comes to mind is his dependability (68 PTS, 68 PIM, +4 in 68 games on average team). His offensive flash is limited, but he’s one of the more reliable forwards in the OHL. He’s an assistant captain on Belleville who plays in all situations.
For an 18-year-old, he’s also very strong on the puck and has a bullet for a shot. Although comparisons are unfair, they give people perspective into what to expect; I think Brendan’s a Jordan Staal-type. You’d be hard pressed to find a guy with more fire in his eyes, too – Brendan hates to lose.
As a person, Brendan is mature and charismatic. He doesn’t really care about what others think of him – not in an arrogant way though, it’s more a quiet confidence. He has a bit of a goofy side as well (check out his "playoff haircut"), but when he gets to the rink he’s all business.
KW: Where do you expect him to be drafted this June?
JM: I can only go by rankings I’ve seen. He seems to be pegged as a mid-first rounder by most. It looks like he could go anywhere between 10th-25th overall. However, as any hockey follower knows, drafts – especially one like 2012 with lots of parity – can be a crapshoot.
KW: Finally, when do you expect the book to be published?
JM: It should be available for purchase through Amazon in early July (think 8th-10th). An exact date has not been set, but it should be edited and at the printers shortly after the draft.
Thanks to John for providing such in-depth answers. You can follow him on twitter here.