Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Indignity of failure drove Scheifele

Redoubled effort after being cut by Saginaw as 16-year-old

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BANFF, Alta. -- It's a rite of passage for tens of thousands of teenage hockey players in Canada.

At the end of a childhood filled with visions of National Hockey League stardom, the vast majority of us come to terms with the fact it will never happen.

Mark Scheifele flirted with such acceptance at age 16. The doubts crept into his mind after suffering the indignity failing to make a hockey team for the first time in his life.

The Saginaw Spirit had claimed him in the seventh round of the OHL draft that year, but he failed to crack the opening-day roster.

Reeling, the academically inclined Scheifele returned home to Kitchener and played for the Junior B Dutchmen.

"I still always had the dream of playing in the NHL, but never really thought of it as realistic," Scheifele said Friday after a Canadian junior team practice at Fenlands Arena. "But I really set my mind on hockey. I wanted to be an NHLer."

The 6-foot, 150-pound Scheifele hit the gym with a vengeance, and developed a Plan B to play hockey at Cornell University.

Then came the trade of his playing rights from Saginaw to the Barrie Colts. As luck would have it, Winnipeg Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk just happens to serve as the head coach in Barrie

Under the tutelage of a Hockey Hall of Famer, Scheifele scored 22 goals and 75 points in 66 games.

Those numbers convinced the Winnipeg Jets to go off the board and select him with their first-round (seventh overall) pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft.

Some two years after his release from Saginaw, Scheifele scored his first NHL goal in front of family and friends at the Air Canada Centre. He played seven games for the Jets before his eventual reassignment to Barrie.

Today, his name is pencilled atop the Team Canada depth chart as the first-line centre between Memorial Cup MVP Jonathan Huberdeau and Anaheim Duck Devante Smith-Pelly.

"He brings a lot of real high-end skill," said Team Canada head coach Don Hay. "He's around the puck a lot. He's very creative when he gets the puck. He has a (good) panic threshold. He finds his wingers.

"He's working hard this week on both sides of the puck. That's what we're trying to incorporate with our group. But Mark brings a lot of top-end skill."

The moral of the Scheifele story? Don't give up before the miracle.

"I worked my hardest, and I gave it my all," Scheifele said. "I kept working hard, and I'm fortunate enough to be here."

Here is Banff, where Scheifele can't wipe the grin from his face with the chance to win world junior gold on behalf of his country.

Sometimes, the long, winding road to the top is more rewarding in the end.

"This is unreal," said Scheifele. "One of the best feelings of my life to be here and to be practising with these guys."

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2011 B5

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