One great thing about watching Junior Major hockey is seeing the future stars of hockey. Ever since he was drafted by the Erie Otters in 1997, forward Tim Connolly was touted as a high draft choice in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft and being a future star of the NHL.
On June 26th at the FleetCenter in Boston, the first part of the above statement came true. The New York Islanders, who had the 5th selection overall, selected Connolly. While it is quite an achievement for a player to be selected in the first round, Tim had two other noticeable achievements with his selection by the Islanders. Tim was the first player selected from the CHL, and the OHL, and was the first North American born player selected in the draft. A native of Baldwinsville, NY, Connolly stated that, “It is a great honor to be the first North American player selected in the draft”.
Connolly has been a standout player for the Otters the past two years. Tim has dazzled Erie fans, OHL fans and OHL opponents with his superb skating and puck-handling skills. During the 97-98 year with Erie, where he won the Otters Rookie of the Year, Tim scored 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points. During the 98-99 season, Connolly scored 34 goals and 34 assists for 68, in spite of playing 13 fewer games. In a February game against the Windsor Spitfires, Connolly suffered a broken leg, which ended his play for the remainder of the 98-99 season. In spite of this injury, Connolly still finished as the leading scorer for the Otters.
This injury was a serious concern to Connolly, his family and the Erie fans. With him projected on going in the first round of the draft, this injury could have effected his position in the draft and possibility his future hockey career. During his recovery, Tim was way ahead of the healing curve, much to the surprise and delight of his family, his doctors and the Erie fans. Connolly stated that all the NHL teams had access to his leg and his medical records and no NHL team had any concerns that would effect his draft status.
Draft Day was a very exciting day for Tim, something that lived up to his expectations. However, there still were a lot of unknowns. In the days leading up to the draft, Connolly talked to several NHL teams, so he didn’t have any idea of who might draft him. In an interview after the draft, Connolly stated that a player might be number 1 on one team’s list and number 10 on another team’s list. Connolly was very pleased with the results of the draft. “When I heard my named called in Boston, it was a great feeling. Being from Syracuse, New York, it’s a great situation being drafted by the New York Islanders,” said Connolly.
Not only has Connolly excelled on the ice, he has excelled off the ice. Since he has been in Erie, Tim has been a fan favorite. He will take the time to talk to fans and in spite of his position and status with the Otters, he is very down to earth. After being drafted, Tim was asked how he was handling the pressure of the draft, he replied that there is no pressure when you are doing something you enjoy. An example of pressure, to Connolly, is trying to take care of your family when you are out of a job. A statement like this shows that Tim has his priorities in the right order. Tim credits his family and friends back in Baldwinsville for keeping everything in prospective. Even with the hectic and demanding schedule of the OHL, Connolly has even kept his classroom work on par with his on-ice work, sharing the Otters Scholastic player of the year honors with fellow ’99 draftee, Sean Dixon.
In Boston, on a summer day, a dream that has involved thousands of hours of hard work and sacrifice took a giant step closer toward realization. When he does step onto NHL ice and completes the statement made in the first paragraph will come true. Anyone who knows Tim knows that he will handle the NHL spotlight as he has everything else…with class.