Don't forget Jordan Davie
Jordan Davie is nearly done with hockey.
By this time next year Davie won't be on the ice anymore. He's 20, which means his junior hockey is at its end, and he's not interested in chasing a university scholarship. He'll finish the playoffs with the Nelson Leafs then he'll do something else with his life.
He's made his peace with that.
"It feels like a major chapter is ending and that my life is going to go in a completely new direction after this because I've only known one thing for so long," says Davie. "Yeah, I've had jobs and I know what it's like in the work world and the summers, and now I have to get ready to find a career or whatever you want to call it.
"It's time to grow up, I guess, away from hockey."
Before that happens, it's time to appreciate Davie. It's time to acknowledge the kid from Kaslo who returned to West Kootenay to play for the team he used to dream about joining. It's time to applaud the Leafs' scoring leader who stubbornly dragged his team through a miserable season.
The playoffs began Tuesday, which means the time to see Davie play is finite.
Smile and walk away
Last week Davie drove teammates Rayce Miller and Brendan Smith to Kaslo. He wanted to give them a tour of his home the way he knows it.
"I just love the small town feel," says Davie. "It was one of the things that brought me back from Victoria. I wanted a small town. I'm excited for it already. Summer's just around the corner. Everyone will be home. Kaslo will be booming again."
Davie is the youngest of three boys. His parents, Jeff and Monica, own a building supplies store and Monica is also a paramedic. Jeff used to run Kaslo's rink and would let his hockey-obsessed son get free ice time before and after school.
Having two older brothers meant Davie had to learn how to hold his own early on. Even now when he's tying his skates he sometimes flinches if a teammate walks by.
"Now that I'm the old guy in the league I can beat up on everyone younger than me. You can ask the rookies about that," he says.
Davie loved growing up in Kaslo, but says the travel for hockey was difficult. He played all his minor hockey in Nelson, including a season of peewee under current Leafs head coach Mario DiBella.
DiBella remembers a quiet kid who wasn't yet the aggressive player Davie is now.
"In first-year peewee it's the first time players encounter body contact in a minor hockey environment," says DiBella. "There's an adjustment to that, but even then he was a player who wanted to compete and do his best every time he was on the ice."
Davie moved to Penticton to play midget in Grade 10 and 11, had a cup of coffee as an affiliate player for the Leafs, then made his Junior B debut with the Victoria Cougars of the VIJHL for the 2012-13 season.
It was in Victoria where Davie made his real transition to the player he is today.
He moved from defence to forward and bought into the Cougars' culture of discipline and expectations for winning. Victoria has been a Junior B powerhouse for several years now — in Davie's rookie season the Cougars won the VIJHL league title and went to Cyclone Taylor Cup for the second of what would be three straight years.
Davie discovered he could contribute in a way he'd never done before — by being an agitator.
"I realized how easy it was to smile and walk away from stuff that pissed people off," he says. "That's when my aggression really started to come in, when I was like, 'Wow, drawing penalties is easy and it helps.'"
Nelson hosted the Cyclone Taylor tournament in 2014. The Cougars beat the Leafs for the bronze medal, and it was during this time Davie decided he wanted to play for Nelson. "I wanted to be in the jersey, not against it," he says.
Players pay to compete in Junior B. Davie couldn't afford to return to the Cougars last season and thought he was done with hockey. But he got a call from the Cougars about returning for a playoff run.
"It reignited my love for the game," says Davie, who requested a trade after the playoffs to Nelson. "So this year I found a way to make it financially work with my parents and with the Leafs."
The rookies call him Daddy.
When Davie joined the Leafs he was asked to step into a leadership role by then-coach Dave McLellan. He'd always been on the third or fourth lines of his teams. Now he was on the top line and couldn't be the one sitting in the sin bin.
He also had to start mentoring younger players on the roster. Rookie defencemen Max Daerendinger says Davie has been an anchor for him this season.
"He's always there for you," says Daerendinger. "He'll have something to say to you if you do it wrong, but it's always constructive criticism. It'll help you improve and it's always for the better. I've always looked up to him and I probably will for the rest of the season going into next year wherever I play."
Anyone who walks by the Leafs locker room after a win has probably wondered who the Hall and Oates fan is on the team. Early in the season Davie was watching TV when he saw a softball team singing "You Make My Dreams Come True."
"I thought that was awesome," says Davie. "So I asked some of the vets if they'd be down. We tried it out for a game this year and it caught hard. There was a huge dance off. Now we all know the lyrics and everything."
There's no post-loss dancing though.
No player likes to lose, but Davie in particular gets upset by it. This is his first time on a struggling team, and he has to sometimes remind teammates that losing is contagious.
"It hits the room way harder than people think. One player is like, 'Oh well, we lost that game, whatever, we'll get them next time.' And they don't think about it and it doesn't drive them as crazy as it drives me. Then it'll happen again and again and again and again. And I can't stand losing."
That attitude shows on the ice.
Davie, by his own admission, doesn't have a scorer's touch despite finishing the regular season with a team leading 21 goals and 19 assists. He doesn't have the skilled hands of Eamonn Miller, or the outright speed of Kolten Nelson.
But he's a strong skater who likes to motor down the ice before putting on the breaks to see what his next move is.
"Jo's always got a fire under his ass when he's on the ice," says Rayce Miller. "He's got a really unique game where he's always going but he slows the game down really well. It's a lot of fun to play with him."
Very soon though, Miller will be saying that in past tense. Age 20 can be the end of the road for hockey players all over Canada. They are too old to be drafted, and if they aren't already tearing it up in major junior then they aren't going to sign as a free agent either. They can play university hockey, as Miller intends to do, and for some that offers a chance to stay in the game and perhaps move on.
But Davie's done. He came to Nelson for one last year, one more chance to play for the Leafs and bring a championship home. He's thought about coaching, but in truth it doesn't matter. He'll love the game from afar if need be.
"I don't know what I'd do without it," says Davie. "I talk about it with ten people every single day, whether it's bosses or coworkers or whatever it is. It's just a huge part of my life."