Kelowna Rockets head coach Ryan Huska enjoys telling this story about his 6-foot-7 defenceman Tyler Myers.
After the Rockets disposed of the Vancouver Giants in the WHL Western conference final a few weeks ago, Giants coach Don Hay remarked that he was going to phone Giants co-owner Pat Quinn to express his displeasure with his boss about the improvement Myers exhibited in his game since Quinn coached him at the world junior hockey championship in Ottawa earlier this year.
"There was a big change in Tyler's game after he returned from the world junior," said Huska, whose Rockets meet the Windsor Spitfires in the Mastercard Memorial Cup final on Sunday afternoon. "I think he realized that he can play with the best of his age group in the world and do a very good job at it. I think that raised his confidence level a lot and he really did take his game to another level.
"Defensively, he has been so good in all areas of the ice. I think he realized that he can be a No. 1 shutdown guy and that he can handle the pressure on a big stage."
If Myers can help the Rockets win their second Memorial Cup in five years, the championship will give the hard-rock blueliner a perfect way to end what has been a whirlwind 13 months for the 19 year old.
In April 2008, he was invited to play for Canada at the under-18 world championship, along with current Spitfires Taylor Hall and Ryan Ellis, and celebrated a gold medal with an 8-0 drubbing of Russia in the final.
Two months later, the Buffalo Sabres selected Myers 12th overall at the NHL entry draft in Ottawa. He then attended the Canadian junior summer development camp and the Sabres rookie camp before returning to Kelowna for his fourth junior season.
Quinn then selected Myers to be his key shutdown defenceman at the world juniors and Canada won gold. With increased confidence Myers led Kelowna to the WHL championship and was named the playoffs most valuable player.
"If there is a guy who is committed to winning and does it the right way, it is Tyler," said Huska, who won three Memorial Cup titles with the Kamloops Blazers in the mid-1990s. "If you could see the difference in the way he is now compared to when he came to Kelowna as a 16 year old. This is one guy you don't have to worry about. He brings a bowl of fruit to the rink every day to make sure he's eating right.
"He acts in a very professional manner, and that's why there are no concerns with him. That's why he's been able to play 25 to 30 minutes a night and perform well."
Huska also marvels at his defenceman's humble ways.
"One thing about Tyler that's different from a lot of high-end players is that as good as he is on the ice you would never know by the way he acts off the ice," Huska said. "All of his teammates want to be around him. He's very grounded. You have to credit his parents for keeping him humble. He doesn't let his accomplishments go to his head and he wants to play his very best every time."
Myers was queried about his dedication and commitment to eating right.
"All the guys have been giving me a hard time, but I enjoy it," he said. "It's definitely been a long year, but you have to stay grounded and we're all excited about Sunday."
Myers said he will only enjoy a week off before getting back into the gym to prepare for the Sabres training camp. He wants to pack on another 10 pounds to his 212-pound frame over the summer.
He is in a remarkable situation, considering he was born near Houston and did not begin skating until he was 10, after his father Paul, who is in the oil business, took him to see his first Houston Aeros hockey game.
Shortly after, the Myers family moved to DeWinton, Alta. in the Foothills, just south of Calgary. Then Myers's successful hockey journey began.
"I have a lot of people to credit," he said. "But I think if I wasn't drafted by Kelowna and had a chance to work with [Rockets assistant coach]Jeff Finley [a former NHLer]I don't know if I could have developed as fast or as well. I owe him a lot."
Bleak for Blacker
Spitfires coach Bob Boughner, named the CHL's coach of the year on Saturday, listed injured defenceman Jesse Blacker (lower body) as a game-time decision. But Boughner admitted that his dependable blueliner was still quite sore and hobbled after suffering an undisclosed leg ailment when he was smacked from behind by Drummondville Voltigeurs captain Samson Mahbod in the second period of Windsor's 3-2 overtime victory on Friday evening.
Boughner revealed that the 18-year-old Blacker, a projected second or third round selection for the 2009 NHL entry draft next month, will spend most of Saturday receiving treatment in the hopes that he can recover in time for Sunday afternoon's final.
The surnames of Kelowna defencemen Tyson Barrie and Collin Bowman should be recognizable to junior hockey nuts. Bowman's older brother Drayson hoisted the Memorial Cup as a member of the Spokane Chiefs a year ago, while Tyson Barrie is the son of former NHLer and current Tampa Bay Lightning co-owner Len Barrie.
The younger Barrie has an opportunity to win a junior championship, a feat his father failed to accomplish in his five WHL seasons with the Calgary Wranglers, Victoria Cougars and Kamloops Blazers. He made it to the 1990 Memorial Cup tournament with the Blazers, but they were dumped in all three of their round-robin games, two in overtime.
An incredible fact about the Memorial Cup finalists is that they both lost standout players to the NHL before the season began. Former Rockets defenceman Luke Schenn played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and ex-Spitfire Josh Bailey cracked the New York Islanders lineup.
Windsor's game-winning overtime hero from Friday, Adam Henrique, hails from Brantford, Ont. Even though, Henrique, a New Jersey Devils draft pick, was born on Feb. 6, 1990, 11 days after Wayne Gretzky celebrated his 29th birthday, does he garner any inspiration from playing his minor hockey in Gretzky's hometown?
"Sure you do," Henrique said. "Growing up there, he was around Brantford when he could be there and, of course, his father Walter was always around. He was a great inspiration."
It also turns out that one of Henrique's minor hockey coaches was Gretzky's brother, Glen.
Cody Hodgson of the Brampton Battalion won the Canadian junior player of the year honours. He wasn't in Rimouski to accept his award because he after Brampton lost in the OHL final to Windsor, Hodgson joined the Manitoba Moose of the AHL for their run at the Calder Cup.
Other junior award winners were: Jonathan Blum, Vancouver (top defenceman), Mike Murphy, Belleville (top goaltender), Brett Connolly, Prince George (top rookie), Stefan Elliott, Saskatoon (scholastic), Mattew Pistilli, Shawinigan (humanitarian), Yannick Riendeau, Drummondville (top scorer), Cedric Lalonde-McNicoll, Shawinigan (sportsmanship) and John Tavares, London (top prospect).
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