September 26, 2011
For the third consecutive season, Buzzing The Net is profiling OHL, QMJHL, WHL and USHL players who are up for the NHL draft.
Brendan Gaunce has figured out not to put the cart before the Bulls.
The 17-year-old centre has long been one to watch in the Ontario Hockey League, since he was a first-round pick who was preceded in the league by his brother Cameron Gaunce, a defenceman who made his NHL debut last season with the Colorado Avalanche. The younger Gaunce, who at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds could be called a forward version of his brother, should get extra attention due to his role in Belleville. The Bulls expect him to use his smarts and size to jump-start their offence.
"I think our coach [George Burnett] put it into our head right from the first day of training camp that it doesn't really matter if you get 100 points in one year and your team only gets 60," says Gaunce, who on Saturday was the game's first star after notching two points to help the Bulls get their first win of the season despite being four skaters shy of a full roster. "People are going to look back and ask, 'Why didn't you help the team a little bit more?' There's added pressure in my draft year, but I think we need to look at contributing to the team first."
Gaunce had 11 goals and 37 points as a rookie on a young, scoring-challenged team that was dead last in the OHL in goals scored. The Bulls would understandably like to do a memory wipe of that long season. Gaunce, who could one day fit the NHL prototype of a being a big, talented forward who's willing to use his size in front of the net and in the corners, figures prominently into those plans.
"He's bigger, stronger, faster, lean and he's on a mission," says Burnett, Belleville's coach and general manager. "He's had a great preseason for us. He's got a speed and a quickness to him that you usually don't see in guys his size. He's very determined to be considered one of the elite players in this next draft.
"Because we were in the situation we were in, he probably played in many more situations and probably gained tremendous experience from that," Burnett adds. "He doesn't want to be part of that again. We didn't achieve the goals that we wanted to and in his case, he's been named one of our captains for a reason."
A Markham, Ont., native, Gaunce has spent two summers training with former NHL star turned fitness guru Gary Roberts, who's had in hand in helping several Toronto-area players turn into stars (Steven Stamkos and Jeff Skinner being among the most noteworthy). Gaunce says that's been a springboard into this season.
"This year he stepped up the program and we were treated like pros," Gaunce says. "To go from that to come to junior camp already feeling like a pro is a good start to the year."
"There's probably lots of guys that I'd like to play as in the NHL, but I don't think my calibre of games suits them. Some guys will say like [Anaheim Ducks star] Ryan Getzlaf, he's played for the Olympic team, for his grit and his leadership. I look at guys like that as role models. Even Steven Stamkos. I don't have the same skills he does but his work ethic in the gym is unbelievable. You got to keep watching him and trying to do those things yourself."
2. In your mind, what would scouts say is the biggest areas of your game that need work between now and when you'll be on the cusp of turning pro?
"I think foot speed, for sure, because skating with [older] guys in the summer you can see how fast they are. And even guys in the OHL, you can see the quick feet they have so that's something I need to work on during the year. And also shooting on net and getting rebounds for my teammates, because you have to create opportunities any way you can. Coming down the wall is a big thing too ... I don't think you can ever be good at puck battles until you've worked your hardest."
3. You and Cameron were born four years apart so it's not like you played together growing up. But how competitive are the two of you just when you're doing anything?
"I don't think it's on the ice as much as off the ice, when we're doing video games and even working out. When you see he's doing a little more than you, you want to push and be ahead of him in the gym, just to have the bragging rights. It's always a good push from each other. Now that we're older [21 and 17], we're always looking at each other and taking confidence, rather than ragging on him if they're beating us. It's more like, 'good job, keep going.'
"It could be eating burgers at dinner. If he eats four and I eat three, he'll be giving it to me."
4. Outside of family, who has had the biggest influence on you in hockey?
"Probably one of my good friends at home, Mr. Paul Titanic [who starred in the 1970s at Bowling Green]. He coached my brother. He didn't really coach me that much when I was younger but he coached me for two years. Just the things he'd tell you, the small things, and how composed he was on the bench. It really translated into my game and he was a good role model for me. He coached my brother all the way up and we're good family friends. I think he helped coach in bantam and minor midget, two years"
5. Favourite TV show or movie?
"Favourite movie is either Warrior, the one I just saw, or the Harry Potter series. Favourite TV show — if I was being immature, probably Family Guy and I also like Dexter."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: CHL Images).