Ice teammates take in surreal Draft environment
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MONTREAL — They were joined at the hip for much of the past season as teammates with the Winnipeg Ice. And so it was no surprise to see good buddies Conor Geekie and Matthew Savoie standing just a few feet apart on Wednesday as they met a throng of media on the eve of the biggest day of their young hockey lives.
The two teens are expected to be selected in the first round of the NHL draft Thursday night, with plenty of family and friends cheering them on inside the Bell Centre.
“I had my (high school) grad a few days ago. Next thing you know I’m on a plane to Montreal. It feels pretty surreal,” Geekie, the 18-year-old product of Strathclair, Man., told the Free Press as he took part in the top prospects showcase at the city’s science centre.
“Excited, for sure. Obviously everyone has some nerves. As soon as they come up I try to bring them down. (Thursday’s) the day they’ll be going, don’t worry. You might see a leg twitch.”
After posting 70 points in 63 regular-season WHL games, and 11 more in 15 playoff contests, Geekie’s stock is certainly rising. At exactly what number he goes is a major mystery — and not something he’s losing any sleep over.
“If I go fifth or 30th or in the seventh round, I’m not too worried,” said Geekie, whose 23-year-old brother, Morgan, was drafted in the third round in 2017 and current plays for the Seattle Kraken. “I’ve embraced it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You really have no idea where you could go. Whether I go in the first round or wherever, I’m always going to be happy and looking forward to starting a new journey.”
What about the club in his own backyard, the Winnipeg Jets, who are slated to pick twice in the first round at No. 14 and No. 30?
“Winnipeg kind of plays my style of game a little bit,” said Geekie, a right-shooting forward who stands 6-3 and weighs 192 pounds. “Playing close to home would be a lot of fun as well. But just kind of taking it all in and embracing it. You can’t control who goes up or down.”
It’s a similar mindset for Savoie, who hails from Alberta and led the Ice with 90 points in 65 regular-season games, then had another 12 in 10 playoff contests. He’s been interviewed by approximately 27 or 28 of the league’s 32 teams, including Winnipeg, and there’s no consensus on when his name might be called. Some mock drafts have him close to the top five or seven, while others have him falling into the late teens.
“Definitely surreal to see it come full circle,” he said Wednesday. “All the hard work I’ve put in, the dedicated hours. The time away from family at such a young age was difficult, but it’s all worth it to achieve a dream like this.”
Although he’s just 5-9 and 176 pounds, the 18-year-old Savoie has skill to burn along with a high hockey IQ that makes him a tantalizing prospect in a league where smaller players are excelling like never before. He was quick to credit Ice coach James Patrick with his development and current mindset.
“He just wants Geeks and I to have fun, enjoy the whole experience, not take any of it for granted,” said Savoie. “He was huge this year, just his insight and his leadership. He’s a true pro around the arena. You can definitely tell he played in the NHL for 15 plus years. The mentality he brings to the arena, the way he wants every one of his players to keep improving, keep getting better, it’s exactly what you want in a coach.”
Geekie and Savoie have no control over when and where they’re drafted, but the pair say this experience will only strengthen their bond.
“It’s been great hanging out at the rink, pushing each other, trying to get better, being able to talk to him about draft-related things,” said Savoie.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.