Canucks pick Brendan Gaunce settling in with Erie Otters, reuniting with Michael Curtis
Brendan Gaunce has had a lot to process, so the the best tack is seeing the similarities rather than the changes in his hockey fortunes.
Such is life for a highly rated 19-year-old prospect whose original OHL team ends up being a seller. Gaunce, the Vancouver Canucks first-rounder, is adapting to life with the now contending Erie Otters after his trade two weeks ago. Concurrently, it comes while moving on from being omitted from Team Canada's national junior selection camp. It's a lot to grasp after 3½ seasons as a beacon for the Belleville Bulls — the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 priority selection, sophomore with first-round NHL hype, then captain on a team that fell one win short of the OHL final.
"I didn't really know where anything was so I still use the GPS," Gaunce says. "But I know most of the main streets and main spots. I'm getting used to it.
"I've been doing the same things for four years," Gaunce says. "At the end of day it's still playing hockey with a bunch of guys your own age ... it's definitely different, but I don't know if it's much different from what we had last year in Belleville. They've had a good start to the year and we're hoping that success keeps coming."
Gaunce's transition has been eased by the sight of a familiar face in the locker room. Prior to the season, Erie also traded with Belleville for the versatile overage speedster Michael Curtis, who joined the Bulls one year ahead of Gaunce. The pair are plenty hungry are to taste some post-season success. The Bulls earned home-ice advantage for the Eastern Conference final last season and started well in the decisive Game 7 at the Yardmen Arena, before the Mark Scheifele-graced Barrie Colts dug in and rallied to win.
"It was tough, getting that close," the 20-year-old Curtis says. "Coming here had a huge upside, giving me an opportunity to prove what I can do. I have to take advantage of that.
"It's a great town. These are the best fans in the league, we had a 6,700 sellout recently. The new arena with the renovations looks amazing.
"They've done a great job building a winning attitude here."
Bassin: 'I don't know what they need, but I know we need them'
The Otters are 7-0 with with a 43-9 goal differential since the trade, so one can fairly say he's fortified their depth up front. The Markham, Ont., native has counted seven points and is plus-10 through seven games with Erie, who sent the Bulls a package of 18-year-old wing Stephen Harper and four second or third-round picks spread across the next three drafts.
Gaunce, who's often likened to current Canuck Ryan Kesler, has been been used to create space for the OHL's top two scorers, centre Dane Fox and right wing Connor Brown. Curtis, with his quickness and hockey sense, has been winging it alongside the world junior championship-bound André Burakovsky and Connor McDavid.
Point being, each is fitting in well as complements to the headliners for Erie, which leads the OHL with an .859 point percentage and a +82 goal differential.
"High-character guys," Otters managing partner Sherry Bassin says. "They've both got phenomenal experience. Curtis was on an under-18 team that won a gold medal (at the 2010 Ivan Hlinka) and Gaunce was a captain in Belleville.
"They have ability but the character is really important. I don't know what they need, but I know we need them."
A foothold somewhere, anywhere is at the top Curtis has been to a development camp with the Canucks, but is seeking a contract for next season after he ages out of the OHL. The Mississauga native, who has 24 points and is plus-15 over 31 games, is refusing to be satisfied.
"Last kick at the can, I wanted to give myself the best opportunity to succeed," he says. "I think I have done that so far, but I have to continue to do so."
'One small thing'
Meantime, Gaunce is turning the page on being among the first cohort of 19-year-olds to get the short end of Hockey Canada's philosophical change toward its selection camp. It's not defining.
"You just have to move on from things such as that and it's obviously a big opportunity for the guys who got selected," he says. "You cannot dwell on it. It's one small thing that's part of your hockey career."
The world junior also comes at the midpoint of a graduating junior's final season. There is a lot of time to show the puck watching-world otherwise, and not just between December and the climax of the CHL season. The world junior is a 10-day sprint, but four rounds of best-of-7 against league rivals is also a good proving ground for a future pro, especially if the Memorial Cup is tacked on to the end.
"If it does end up being my last year, I'd love to go out on top," Gaunce says.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to email@example.com.