Growing up outside Toronto, life was fairly straightforward. You played hockey in the winter, lacrosse in the summer and dreamed of playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But my adventures have taken me down a different route.
After a successful minor hockey career, I was fortunate to be drafted by the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario League. I enjoyed playing two seasons for them until I was traded to the St. Michael’s Majors - a storybook franchise.
St. Mike’s College Arena sits in downtown Toronto and has been home to NHL Hall of Famers like Dick Duff, Gerry Cheevers, Ted Lindsay, Frank Mahovlich and Dave Keon. Not to mention the long list of current NHL greats who couldn’t crack the aforementioned list.
After spending two seasons with the Majors, my OHL career came to a close.
Shortly thereafter, I decided to make good use of the scholarship program presented to me before signing in the league. For those unsure of how it works, it’s based on what your draft position is.
OHL teams offer more substantial education packages to the highest-rated prospects. For example, a first round draft pick will be offered somewhere in the range of $10,000-20,000 towards education for each full season completed in the league. So if a player is offered a package of $12,000 per season and he plays five years of junior, he can decide to claim that $60,000 as long as he’s enrolled in a post-secondary institution. I hope this isn’t too confusing. â€¨
The later you’re selected in the draft, the less the package is worth.
The catch is the money can be revoked if a player plays professional hockey for more than 18 months. It’s no wonder junior teams shower their top prospects with opportunities - they’re hoping the player signs a professional contract, so the team can be relieved of its financial commitment.
When my OHL career concluded I had a decision to make and, as a player, there is a dilemma.
I’d love to continue my career and work towards making it to the big leagues, but what if I don’t make it? Have I wasted that education package? Have I made any progress that will support my life after hockey?
This is how I saw it: I love hockey and I would love to make a career out of it, but at the time I had to make a decision and I was scared.
Players whose rights are owned by an NHL team have it easy. They know what the ultimate goal is and where they want to be after junior – it’s the rest of us who are left to make a tough choice.
I decided on attending St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B., a team led by former NHLer Mike Eagles. It’s a small campus with a community feel and for those who haven’t been, eastern Canada is a fantastic place. In Ontario people get lost in the crowd, but in the Maritimes everyone is someone.
The Tommies are an annual underdog. We compete against large schools like Dalhousie, St. Francis Xavier and Université
Being the sports fanatic I am, I wanted to stay in the loop – so I decided to study journalism and here I am – happy to be continuing my education and fortunate to be playing the game I love.
Stay tuned and I’ll give you a taste of what the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) is all about.
Jason Cassidy is a right winger for St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He spent four seasons in the Ontario League's with the Brampton Battalion and St. Michaels Majors. He is from Whitby, Ont., and is working towards a degree in journalism and will blog on THN.com about his CIS and OHL career regularly.