MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Josh Ho-Sang bolted down the right wing and, just when it looked like he was about to go behind the net, made a cheeky pass in front.
Standing in the slot, Johnny Corneil was the beneficiary. He scored the insurance marker before Ho-Sang added an empty-netter.
After displaying such skill, most hockey players would essentially let their play do the talking when it came time for the post-game interview.
But Ho-Sang isn’t most hockey players. He’s arguably the CHL’s biggest personality. He doesn’t speak in cliches.
Buzzing The Net caught up with the Niagara IceDogs winger last Friday after he helped his team beat the division-rival Mississauga Steelheads 4-1 in OHL action.
The topics du jour were dealing with negativity, being late and getting cut from New York Islanders camp, exuding confidence and not being named to Canada’s world junior selection roster.
Buzzing The Net: You’re now on an 18-game point streak (longest in the OHL). How would you classify your season so far?
Josh Ho-Sang: With point streaks, that’s definitely attributed to the team. When it starts off at six or seven games it’s more of a personal thing. But as soon as the guys realized I got to 10, everybody’s been talking to me on the bench. They’re saying, ‘Come on Sangy. Keep it going.’ It’s pretty fun. (Johnny Corneil) came up to me and said, ‘Sangy, I’m going to get you one.’ It’s good that the guys can bring that focus. I gave him the puck in a (scoring) area and he made magic with it. That’s what you need in those situations.
BTN: He looked pretty happy. He pointed right at you. When a player is on a streak, it’s usually a matter of others looking for him. But you’re a passer. Do you go out of your way to look for your linemates?
JHS: Yeah. It’s just about finding guys who click for you. (Corneil) is having a career season. He passed his points season-high a couple weeks ago. With guys like that stepping up and (Jordan) Maletta, who’s an overager, good line chemistry will facilitate goals.
BTN: How would you categorize your last five or six months going back to the summer with Hockey Canada?
JHS: It’s been pretty crazy. Some days you look in the mirror and go, 'What’s going on?' You have ups and downs just like everybody else. For me, it’s just about keeping my head. A lot of stuff has happened. I’ve had to deal with a lot on a personal level, people being vicious. It makes you mentally stronger. The fact that I’m dealing with this now is kind of nice. If it gets worse than this, I know how to deal with it.
BTN: What have you heard that’s been vicious? Are you getting a lot more criticism?
JHS: Yeah. It’s people going out of their way to say s---. That’s pretty vicious. I don’t go out of my way to chirp anyone ever. If somebody asks me about another player, I give them my honest reply. If there are any huge negatives, I let them see that. I let other people make the decisions. In some situations, people defend me, which is amazing. But I don’t need that either, as weird as it sounds. It’s nice that people stick up for me and all that. Sometimes you just wish it was about the game or it was about the things you do for other people.
BTN: Are you hearing it mostly from hockey people, coaches, media, players?
JHS: Hockey people. The media. It’s all the time. Every time I get interviewed I get asked about all the stuff. Why? What do you want to talk to me about? It’s just being a pinata for no reason. You can come to me with a lot, but right now I’m on an 18-game point streak. People want to come talk to me about that or about our team this year and how we’re making progressions. That’s great. But anything else that happened that involved me is kind of stupid.
BTN: But do you understand why people want to talk about some of that other stuff? Do you understand why you get criticism?
JHS: Yeah, for sure. With the situation with New York, I totally get it. The first month I’m back in the OHL, f--- ... Tell me how stupid I am. That’s totally cool. But after awhile ... I’m not playing in the NHL. I don’t need you to tell me I’m not playing in the NHL. I know. If you want to bring that stuff up next year when I’m in New York at training camp (you can say), ‘Don’t be an idiot.’ But that’s different. It’s kind of just beating the same drum.
BTN: New York thinks highly of you. They made you a first-round pick. You were supposed to skate with John Tavares and Anders Lee. Do you get a chance to talk to Tavares? How did that situation go?
JHS: I talked to him at the (Islanders) golf tournament. A lot of the stuff he talked to me about has helped contribute to the point streak. It’s having some sort of impact every night. I talked to him a lot about the mental side of the game. With a guy like John Tavares, you look at him and look at his elite skill set and how he sees the ice. You see that he really thinks the game. Guys like that, you like to get in their head. They aren’t necessary feel players. They really see the game.
BTN: There was a big piece on you in Sportsnet magazine earlier this year. You said when you came into the OHL you were a “s---head” and you were even more of one once you started playing in the league. You also said you had trouble being coachable. Do you find that things are changing? Are you maturing?
JHS: When I say that I was a s---head, there’s different ways you can take that. My coach would be like, ‘Dump the puck in.’ But I would go end-to-end and set up a goal. That would be my only point in the game, but it would be right after he told me to dump it in. That’s what I meant. There were definitely some times where I was hard to coach. It was tough. I came into the league and I put up 50 points (actually 44) and then my next year I put up 80 (actually 85). I was progressing. There are certain things that come easy and certain things that don’t. I’m trying to figure out how to make the things I’m not good at better and continue doing things at a high level.
BTN: Everyone sees the skill and we talked about the passing. So what doesn’t come easy? What can you get better at?
JHS: Just an understanding of the business side of hockey. I do have a good understanding of it, but I definitely have different views on things hockey-oriented than a lot of people I’m around. ... It’s working with the looseness of my play and what I do in the zone compared with what you want me to do. It’s trying to find a way to blend those two well together. That’s what I’ve been trying to do here. It’s obviously been working.
BTN: Hockey’s very team-oriented. It’s generally not individualistic. Rightly or wrongly, players like P.K. Subban or Jeremy Roenick sometimes get criticized for speaking out. If you give an honest answer you can be criticized. Do you find that tough?
JHS: I don’t find it tough. If you look at the world in general, we’ve made a lot of changes from social issues to skin colour. I think it’s up to the athletes to change that. If the athletes want to be quiet in some areas, that’s totally their choice. But in some areas, you make it harder on other guys. The reason football is football is because there are a bunch of loudmouth guys at once. In hockey you may have three or four in the league. I would say that’s the difference. Especially with the social media side, with the kids coming up, it’s only a matter of time before you have a bunch of clowns coming up and doing crazy stuff. I’ll be ready.
BTN: For instance, you said (in an interview with the Toronto Sun) of those coming out of the 2014 draft, you’d be the best player in three years. Do you still think that?
JHS: Oh yeah. I’m in a really good position. John Tavares is maybe the best player in the world. He’s really great on both sides of the puck. Playing with a guy like that, anything’s possible. You look at Jamie Benn playing with (Tyler) Seguin. Jamie Benn’s eating up all the points. If you’re playing with a lot of elite players like in New York – they’re doing very well without me – if I can come and jump in and be a threat, the sky’s the limit.
BTN: You’ve talked about speaking your mind and being honest. Is there anything you’ve ever said that you regret now?
JHS: No, because at the time I probably felt like I should. That’s stupid stuff to regret. ... I speak my mind and try to think consciously about other people. If you look at the things that I say, I don’t think I’ve ever attacked another person except for Hockey Canada and that was just the organization, not any names. But I try to avoid that. I just talk about me if questions are asked. I’m not really afraid to do that.
BTN: Speaking of Hockey Canada, you went to the summer camp. But when you didn’t play in the Canada-Russia Series, you were a long shot to be invited to the world junior camp. Were you frustrated after getting a chance in the summer?
JHS: In the summer, I got two points. I got three points in a Subway Super Series game (in 2014). I don’t know what else to do. There’s not much else to do. They came to a couple of my games this year actually and I played very bad. In their defence, if people want to get on them about that, they came to two games – I know the two games they were at – and I played brutal both games. That’s what it is. They came during my point streak, but I just played like s---. That happens. If they want to judge you on that, in all fairness, they totally have the right to.
BTN: It’s probably a case – like we talked about – where, in addition to getting points, there are other things you need to do on the ice.
JHS: Yeah, for sure. Those were just tough nights. Everybody has them. If I played great I might be a little more upset. But I didn’t play well and that’s life.
BTN: Finally, you talked about team success right off the top. As a 19-year-old, are you sensing the importance of this season, not only for next year as you try to make the Islanders, but for Niagara?
JHS: (Coach and general manager) Marty (Williamson) and the Burkes (assistant coach Billy and assistant general manager Joey) really want a Memorial Cup. Anything I can do to help facilitate that, they’ve been nothing but amazing to me. I don’t care about this year for me. It’s about the people I’m around – Johnny (Corneil), Knotter (Graham Knott), Dunny (Vince Dunn), guys that have a chance to get drafted or come back. New York knows I can play hockey, they’ve said it openly. It’s about coming to camp and being ready. Right now, it’s about winning and making the players around me better.
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