Erie Otters centre Dane Fox is working to redefine country strong.
The Thamesville, Ont., native took advantage of being granted a third year of junior by his mid-October birthday to showcase himself for the NHL draft, becoming a versatile centre with the London Knights and Erie Otters. Fox was a consistent scorer in the first half of the season while playing on the Knights' third line and kept up the pace after the eventual Ontario Hockey League champions sent him to the cellar dwellers in order to add veteran scorer Greg McKegg. With both teams, Fox made his mark as a superb two-way player. Since the Otters' season ended, Fox has been toning up his 6-foot, 185-pound frame with ex-NHLer turned conditioning guru Gary Roberts.
"I've got a lot of work to do this summer," says Fox, who is NHL Central Scouting's 46th-ranked North American skater. "It was nice to see Gary so I had a little bit of base before the combine, but I got a lot to work at.
"I'm little bit of everything on the ice," Fox adds. "I can score, I can hit, I can pass, I love to fight, I'm not just an offensive forward or a penalty killer. I think teams look for that."
Fox, who played his minor hockey with the Chatham-Kent Cyclones, tallied 23 goals and 54 points across 62 games while playing for the first and worst overall teams in the OHL. The Knights' decision to move him was an example of giving something to get something. Fox did seem like the prototype Dale and Mark Hunter player: physical, adept at agitating opponents, dogged on the penalty kill and possessing some offensive flair. With Erie, Fox moved into a top-line role and made a good case to be either a second- or third-round NHL pick.
"At first I was upset about leaving London," he says. "They were a contending team. But it was more ice time, more exposure, more power-play time, more penalty kill. I think it turned out nicely for me."
1. I'm sure you've answered this already but how did you view the Knights' run to the league title, having been part of that team for half the season?
"Been asked that question many times. There's guys on that team like Seth Griffith who I've played minor hockey with almost my whole life. They're nothing but a good organization, classy, and I was rooting for them 100 per cent. It was good to see them succeed and they're going to be a good team next year. I actually went down to London on the Friday night [May 11] to watch them win the championship versus Niagara. We had box tickets and I went down afterward to congratulate them and went downtown with a bunch of guys after."
2. What are specific components of your game that you need to improve?
"Definitely my offensive awareness. I also have to be more aware in my defensive end. If you play good solid defence, that builds toward good offence."
3. Whom did you mesh well with Erie when you arrived?
"One of the the first guys who welcomed me to the team was [defenceman] Adam Pelech, who should be here [at the combine]. He's a big defenceman and a great leader on and off the ice. Guys like [Otters forwardsd] Connor Brown and Luke Cairns helped me continue my success throughout the year and were great linemates to have."
4. Hockey is so all-consuming, what do you do for fun to get away from it?
"My family and I are big water people. We have a cottage and we really like to go boating and tubing and Sea-Dooing, stuff like that. I also play a lot of golf." (Are you one of those guys who shoots from one side in hockey and uses the other hand in golf?) "No, I can golf both ways, actually. I shoot left, I golf left but I can also golf right. Once I played one round left, one round right and shot the same. I couldn't believe it. High 80s, 86, 87."
5. Growing up on a family farm involves some hard work, but what are the benefits?
"It's everyone in our family involved, my parents [Carla and Kevin Fox], grandparents, aunts, uncles. We have 1,000 acres, with six quonsets in the back, three hundred fifty by fifty. In the winter my dad used to make a rink in one and I would just fly, all day long. He'd put lights up and he didn't even have to check on me. They would just hear the banging from the pucks because the walls were aluminum and know I was out there.
"I was raised to work hard. Get up early at 6 a.m., 6:30, put in a good day's work and then you can go have fun as a reward. You could get done by early afternoon and go play 27 holes of golf. Getting to do something like this [NHL combine] is a treat."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).