Draft day was a memorable one for Tai York and 15 family members
No matter where Niagara-on-the-Lake phenom Tai York’s hockey career goes from here, the day he was drafted into the Ontario Hockey League will be one he never forgets.
It was a real family affair.
In anticipation of the Niagara North Stars winger being selected in last Saturday’s draft, 15 members of his family – and one dog – gathered in the parking lot near the Walmart at McLeod Road in Niagara Falls.
In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, all social distancing rules were followed. They sat in four vehicles from 9 a.m. till after 1 p.m. when York was chosen, 109th overall, by the Barrie Colts.
For years the OHL’s Priority Selection draft of under-16 players has been conducted online. So, York and his relatives stayed in their vehicles, constantly refreshing their phones as teams chose the 300 top young players who will get a crack at playing major junior hockey this fall.
“It was nerve-racking,” the 15-year-old left winger said in an interview. “I saw a lot my friends go (in the draft), guys I played against or played with and I was just hoping to see my name.”
With dad Justin, mom Susie and brother Austin, 17, all sitting in their truck, everyone was “super excited” when York was selected in the sixth round by Barrie.
The Walmart parking lot was chosen as a central rendezvous point for the festivities so the clan could meet up with Susie’s brother, who lives in Welland.
So, the gathering included the Yorks, Kristy and Steve Lidstone and their three kids, Tara and Rick DeVries and their three children, and Tai’s grandad Richard DeVries, plus his dog Molly.
York had heard from 10 teams prior to the draft and had a home visit with Barrie representatives – and the Colts were the family’s preferred destination, his father said.
But when it happened, York said he was “speechless. I was just really excited. And then my phone blew up” with a flood of texts and phone calls.
Among those he heard from was Colts’ general manager Jason Ford and a rep from OHL central scouting, all congratulating him on being picked.
Shortly afterward, they headed home to St. Davids and had a nap. York was exhausted. “I couldn’t sleep the night before.”
Next the work begins as he prepares for Barrie’s training camp, though, with the pandemic, it’s unclear exactly when that will be.
Listed at just under 5 foot 10 and 147 pounds by the OHL, York wants to work at getting stronger.
With all arenas and gyms closed, regular workouts aren’t possible, but he has an advantage over most others: his uncle, Steve Lidstone, is Brock University’s manager of sports performance and he lives a few doors away in St. Davids.
So, while York won’t be skating for a while, he has a personal strength coach and use of Lidstone’s home gym.
If he does make the team, it means leaving NOTL and likely living with a billet family in Barrie. He admits his mother is “nervous” about that prospect, but he’s OK with it.
“It’s something that I look forward to, getting the experience of living away from home.”
Meantime, York, who had a career year and was Niagara North’s top scorer with 23 goals and 22 assists, along with 17 points in 13 playoff games, is working on his shot.
“I’m shooting pucks, mainly on the street,” with a net and a “Shooter Tutor” goalie target.
He turns 16 on June 18 and is eager to get to training camp. “I’m hoping to make the lineup. I know it will be tough in my first year, but I’m going to work hard and do my best.”
Overtime: York was one of five members of the minor midget AAA Niagara North Stars, coached by NOTL realtor Matt Miller, to be drafted this year. He was followed by Ethan Whitcomb (152, Guelph), Conner Thomson (208, Erie), Derek Smyth (220, Ottawa) and Nathan Duplessis (229, Barrie).
The Stars finished second in the South Central AAA loop, behind the Welland-based Southern Tier Admirals, who saw seven players drafted. The Admirals’ slippery, talented forward Andrew Leblanc went in the first round, 17th overall, to the Kitchener Rangers. His twin brother Jacob, a defenceman, was picked in the third round, also by Kitchener. A package deal.