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Ex-Michigan recruits Bryson Cianfrone, Jared Walsh find fit with Mississauga Steelheads

October 11, 2013
By

Walsh is one of two Steelheads newcomers who were committed to the University of Michigan (Mike Carroccetto for …With Bryson Cianfrone and Jared Walsh in the fold, it’s like the Mississauga Steelheads have found the OHL’s equivalent to the 100-mile diet.

The Brampton Battalion decamping to North Bay last summer, which was part of the drawn-out denouement of the league’s overly ambitious late-1990s Toronto expansion, left Mississauga as the lone team located close to the most fecund hockey talent pool in Ontario. That has created a chance to offer something unique to promising players from the Golden Horseshoe who desire to play closer to home, which was definitely a factor in both the 18-year-old centre Cianfrone and 17-year-old defenceman Walsh leaping in the boat with Missy instead of maintaining college commitments to the Michigan Wolverines.

“I’d like to think, a lot,” Steelheads coach-GM James Boyd says when asked if Missy’s status as Peel Region’s lone team can be a boon to recruiting. “We’ve always been good at drafting local kids, that’s just because there’s so many. [Steelheads owner] Elliott Kerr’s big on drafting local kids and that’s a natural for us.”

Mississauga, by dint of having a dozen players aged 18 or younger, including 15-year-old defenceman Sean Day, was pegged to take its lumps in the Central Division. Yet they have managed to start 4-3-0-0 through 3½ weeks of play. Their nucleus could be building toward a larger window of opportunity in 2014-15.

“I don’t want to look too far ahead but it’s definitely a skilled group,” Boyd says. “They’re a lot of fun to work with and our older guys have got the right attitude.”

Cianfrone was originally a Battalion priority selection pick, but kept his NCAA option by playing Junior A as a 16-year-old before joining the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders for his age-17 season. Michigan, with 10 freshmen breaking in this season, deferred him to its 2014 recruiting class. That left Cianfrone, who hails from Stoney Creek, a roughly 40-minute drive from Mississauga’s home rink, somewhat at loose ends for this season.

‘Why not come back home?’

Boyd got wind of it and worked out a trade with North Bay coach and director of hockey operations for Cianfrone’s rights.

“It’s not really a big difference from the league [USHL] I was playing last year,” says Cianfrone. “That league is skilled too, but this league is a little more offensive.

“I went back there [to Cedar Rapids at the beginning of this season] and things were a little different,” adds Cianfrone, who adds he values the mentoring he received last winter from RoughRiders coach Mark Carlson. “It just wasn’t the same as the year before. So I just decided to come back and play at home instead. It’s one of the best leagues in the world, so why not come back home?

“Plus it was my [NHL] draft year last year and I missed it so I figured I could get more exposure.”

Cianfrone, listed at 5-foot-8 and 169 pounds, is undersized. So far, though, he’s showing he can be a legit top-two-lines centre in the OHL.

“He’s a game-breaker type player who’s pretty dynamic,” Boyd says. “He’s a hard worker who seems to find people at the right moments.”

Walsh played for the Junior A St. Michael’s Buzzers last season after being drafted by Mississauga in 2012-13. After six games there last month, the NHL draft prospect opted for a faster pace in the OHL.

“I was really just wanting to be able to on the ice every day of the week,” says Walsh, whom NHL Central Scouting lists as a C-skater. “I felt that the pace I was playing at in Junior A wasn’t helping me that much. I wanted that extra intensity.”

Boyd says a soft-sell approach paid off with Walsh.

“We’ve always stayed friendly with his family,” he says. “Part of the deal was I wasn’t going to bother him during the season. We’d meet at the start of the season. We approached him in early September. At that time it didn’t seem like there was a crack in the door but a few weeks later he’d changed his mind.

“He’s got good vision with the puck, tremendous shot,” Boyd adds. “He can play the power play. He’s going to take a little while to get adjusted to the speed of the league. He’s a competitive kid, takes the body and blocks shots — all the things coaches like to see.”

‘Push the pace’

Walsh, listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, knows he will have to work to overcome perceptions about being a smallish defenceman. During Mississauga’s visit to ottawa this week there were several instances where he brushed off forechecking pressure and started a counter-attack.

“I think I play bigger than my size,” he says. “Push the pace, beat the bigger fast guys to the puck and not take too many hits.”

Joining the Steelheads means Walsh can still live at home while playing in the OHL (“I was getting ready to leave, but those extra few years will help me,” he says). Likewise, Cianfrone is certain he’s made the right call by joining Mississauga instead of joining Michigan next fall. It amounts to a two- or three-year window to show he’s worthy of a professional contract.

“American education is really good but Canadian education is just as good, I think,” he says. “Plus the OHL is really good hockey.”

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

Article source: http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/blogs/jrhockey-buzzing-the-net/ex-michigan-recruits-bryson-cianfrone-jared-walsh-fit-121331457.html

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