It didn’t take long for Okotoks Junior A Oiler forward John McInnis to find out that he was no longer playing prep school hockey.
“My first shift with the Oilers we got scored on — it wasn’t a very good start,” said the 18-year-old McInnis. “But on my second shift, I got a goal.”
McInnis, who hails from Plymouth, Mass. (the place where American Thanksgiving got started) played hockey at Lawrence Academy in New England on a scholarship last season.
“In New England, the public schools’ hockey teams aren’t all that strong,” he said. “So if you want to play a higher level of hockey, you either have to go to a private school or the Eastern Junior Hockey League.”
Baseball is America’s national sport, but hockey isn’t too far behind in the Beantown area.
“Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and the Boston area is where hockey is the biggest in the U.S,” McInnis said. “But in our league, the talent level dropped off after the first four or five teams.” He found out quickly that wasn’t the case in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. “The players are a lot bigger and stronger and everybody can play at a high level,” McInnis said.“In high school, there are maybe one or two lines that can play at a high level.”
He said he had another wake up call when he got checked in Fort McMurray.“This one guy hit me and I hurt my shoulder — and he was smaller than me,” McInnis said with a laugh. “I was one of the bigger guys (last year), but here it doesn’t matter — the smaller guys will give it right back.”
He already has that Western Canadian hockey toughness — he had his shoulder taped up in Fort Mac and was back on the ice to finish the game.
At six-foot-one, 195 pounds playing physical is a large part of his game. However, he does have a scoring touch. He is the second leading scorer on the Oilers with 11 goals and eight assists.“It’s a lot easier to get points when you are playing on a line with Corban Knight,” he quipped.
Oilers general manager Dan MacDonald said that McInnis brings not only size, but also speed to the team.
McInnis was discovered at a tournament in Toronto in the spring attended by the Oilers director of player personnel Garry VanHereweghe and scout Gord Jones, who operates the Black Elk Hockey School.
McInnis is settling into Okotoks and recently enjoyed watching the heroics of a fellow New Englander who did fairly well in southern Alberta.
“Yeah, I knew Doug Flutie played in Canada, but I didn’t know it was in Calgary,” he said while decked out in a Boston College t-shirt. “My mom was up here and we watched his famous Hail Mary pass on ESPN Classics.”
by Bruce Campbell, sports writer
Okotoks Western Wheel local newspaper.