Mon Nov 22 03:48pm EST
Throughout the season, Buzzing The Net will be profiling Canadian Hockey League players who are in their NHL draft season.
Belleville Bulls left wing Michael Curtis makes his bones playing a dependable two-way game.
That make it harder to be a headliner, especially while playing for a young team which has to be more about grit than glitz. Curtis' advocates, though, note it's not about his numbers (three goals, seven points in 22 games) but the way he excels at doing the little things which have more import at the pro game. That explains why he debuted at 23rd among Ontario Hockey League forwards and defenceman in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary North American rankings last week. Future Considerations also sees him as a potential late second-round pick.
"I think I need to show I'm a good two-way player because that is the style I've been playing since I was younger," says Curtis, listed at 6-foot, 185 pounds. "It's always been defence first and let the offence come from there. I think I'll be able to let that show through me penalty kill and hopefully the[NHL] scouts and GMs see that."
"Numbers-wise, I'm not too worried about points," the Mississauga, Ont., native adds. "Once we string some wins together, the individual success will follow."
Curtis had the distinction of being on the ice in the final minute of Canada's 1-0 squeaker over the U.S. in the gold-medal game of the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament in August, where Bulls coach-GM George Burnett was the team's coach. That's carried over into his season.
"He's got a good structure in his life," Burnett says. "He's young man who takes a lot of pride in blocking shots and winning faceoffs when he plays centre."
"Michael's a tremendous worker," the coach-GM adds. "I think he's probably a little disappointed with the number of goals (three) he's scored, because he's a young man who had 19 last year in his first year in the league as a 16-year-old. But he's a very dependable, detailed guy, who can play both ends of the rink. Gritty. Competes hard every night. Pretty much kills every penalty we take, young man who accepts any role given to him by the coaching staff."
The Bulls (7-15-0-2, eighth in their conference) have endured early growing pains since trading speedster Alex Aleardi to Plymouth. Burnett is preaching patience with regard to draft-eligible Bulls such as Curtis, forward Austen Brassard, defenceman Alex Basso and goalie Tyson Teichmann, who could be a good nucleus in a season or two.
"That we've decided to go young, that's my decision, we're going to stay the course," he says. "If we've put too much pressure on our 17-year-olds, that's no fault of theirs. They come to work every day, so when we come out of this little funk we've been in and and I believe that's not long in coming, they'll be a big part of it and it will be great for their development."
"The final buzzer. I was lucky enough to be on the ice since it was close game [Canada beat Team USA 1-0] and we were trying to not let them score. It was pretty sweet waiting for that buzzer to sound, counting down the last five seconds. We were just dumping the puck in, peeking up to check how much time was left.
"I also got to be part of it with a couple teammates, so that was pretty sweet."
2. Outside of family, who has had the biggest impact on your hockey career?
"Probably my old [Toronto Marlboros] minor hockey coach, who I had for eight years, Ken Strong [father of Bulls defenceman Steven Strong]. He taught me the importance of playing a good team game."
3. Whom in the NHL do you look at and say, "That's someone I need to play more like?"
"The guy I always look at is [Philadelphia Flyers captain] Mike Richards. A lot of people don't see it, but you've got to watch the guy penalty kill. He scores 10 short-handed goals. That's something which is hard for an average player to do, score 40 goals a year and have 10 of them be short-handed. There's a reason he's a captain and a player to look up to."
4. What sport would you play if there was no hockey?
"Lacrosse was my other sport growing up, I played on Team Ontario and had a couple Canadian championships, which was a lot of fun. I actually played with [Bulls teammate and Colorado Avalanche draft choice] Stephen Silas for a couple years. It was great help with hand-eye coordination and kept me in shape for hockey season"
5. Worst movie you've ever had to watch on the team bus?"I wasn't a big fan of the Steve Prefontaine movie [1999's Without Limits] we watched. I fell asleep during that one — it was only a trip to Sarnia and I fell asleep."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
(Photo: Aaron Bell, OHL Images.)