Local draftee Jordan Fox aims for a spot on the Battalion blueline
Like most endeavours, playing major junior hockey in your hometown has its advantages and disadvantages.
On the plus side, a player can live at home, possibly attend their regular high school and play their home games in front of an appreciative crowd of family and friends. On the other hand, all the distractions that come with playing in front of all those family and friends can undermine a player’s performance and the benefits of playing and living in another city are not always fully realized.
Brampton native Jordan Fox is looking forward to earning the opportunity to play in front of his hometown supporters. The 17-year-old, 6’1″, 205-pound defenseman was a 12th round draft choice (236th overall) of the Brampton Battalion in June’s OHL Draft. Fox, who spent part of last season patrolling the blueline for the Junior A Brampton Capitals, will be heading next week to the Battalion training camp, which is being held from September 1-5 at the Brampton Centre. Fox is the fourth local player selected by the Battalion. Last year the team picked local products Ryan Leard and Chris Garnham and this year, in addition to Fox, also selected Brampton midget winger Justin Myler in the 14th round.
“There are a lot of good aspects about that,” he said when asked about playing in his hometown. “Sometimes I like the big crowd (of family and friends) and sometimes there will be nights when I don’t like the big crowd. There is always going to be some distractions but some people tend to deal with them in the wrong way. (You have) to take the fans that are cheering you on and use that as an encouragement to do better.”
Fox got an early start in hockey. “I started when I was seven and I’ve been on skates since I was three,” he said recently before hitting the ice for a workout with the Caps. Jordan’s father was a hockey player in his youth and “he got me into hockey as soon as he could.”
Fox doesn’t recall having any great dreams about future hockey stardom when he got started in the game. “When I started I thought this was something my dad got me into as a fun thing to do. I never thought I would learn to love to play so much.” Fox’s athletic pursuits were not confined to the hockey rink, however. “I played basketball, volleyball, soccer, badminton, and did some track and field last year.”
Before getting called up to the Capitals midway through last season Fox played at the midget Triple A level. “I was called up for a couple of games (by the Capitals) and then they asked me to come up full time. I think I played something like 28 games for them.
“It was a year that I had to build my confidence. In midget I started becoming a lot more confident and getting called up to the Caps was good for my confidence. I went up with the Caps and I was kind of low on the totem pole so I was just building my confidence and working on some skills. Being able to play against the higher level really helped me out too.”
Jordan’s parents Dave and Marg are Battalion season ticket holders but Fox’s busy hockey schedule kept him from attending all but a handful of games at the Bunker. Asked for his impression of last year’s Battalion squad, which will return all but three players to this year’s camp, Jordan felt that, “individually there were a lot of good players. For a first year team I was pretty impressed. They were going to have to go with a young team in their first year and I thought they had some really good players.”
Heading into the June draft, Fox had been contacted by several other teams besides the Battalion. He had showcased his skills at a Prospects Tournament in Etobicoke just before the draft but didn’t really feel that anybody was watching him. “I didn’t really have any idea that anyone was looking at me through the season so it was kind of a surprise. I got a couple of letters and I had talked to the Battalion scout on the phone and when I got the package from the OHL I knew there was a good chance of me getting drafted but I didn’t know for sure.”
Early on, Fox had decided that he would only play his junior hockey in Brampton. This was no Lindros-like ego trip to let the other OHL teams know that he was in firm control of his hockey career. Instead Fox was taking a hard, practical look at his future. “I had really thought a lot about it and I said ‘If it’s not Brampton, I’m not going to even go to camp’. I wasn’t ready to take this next step, to move away just to play hockey.”
On draft day the Fox clan arrived late at the Brampton Center after attending a family wedding. On the way to the arena Jordan remembers being “excited to see what would happen, excited and nervous at the same time. You know, ‘if I don’t get drafted, how am I going to feel and if I do get drafted how am I going to feel?’ (I had) a lot of mixed emotions.”
Fox began feeling frustrated as the day went on and the rounds went by but when he heard his name called by Brampton with the second pick in the 12th round, he remembers being “so startled. It was such a good feeling. It was such a surprise.” Two of Jordan’s Capitals teammates were also chosen that day. Defenceman John Treptow was taken in the seventh round by the Guelph Storm and winger Steve Bebis was selected in the ninth round by the Peterborough Petes.
On his way down to the floor, Fox recalled that he was “walking down all smiles and hearing my buddies and their families cheering was really exciting.”
Fox attended a three-day mini-camp the Battalion held the week after the draft. He participated in the two four-on-four scrimmages the team conducted. and came away from the experience with some positive feelings.
“I thought I held my own, I thought I did well. I was kind of worried if I would be able to keep up with the speed and I was glad and confident afterwards that I could.” He found a large difference in the calibre of hockey at the OHL level compared to the game they play at the Junior A level. “The speed picks up, the passes are faster. If you’re not in the right place, you’re going to know.”
While he had never played against any of the players returning to this year’s training camp, Jordan did spend a summer playing with Jason Spezza, who starred for the Battalion last year before being picked first overall in June’s OHL Draft by the Mississauga IceDogs.
“One summer I practiced with the Toronto Marlies and that was the team he was with,” he said as he reminisced about his time with, arguably, the most talked about junior player in Canada. “I played with him a lot. He was still young, then. I think I was 15, so he would have been 14, but you could still see how he was a step ahead of the older guys he was with. Through the summer you could see that he was coming into his own.”
During the camp, Fox did get an up-close look at some of his potential teammates. “I got to play with (defenceman) Jay Harrison and I was really impressed with him. Another one was (center) Jeff Bateman (drafted in June by the Dallas Stars). He has great hands. The older players treated us like one of the guys. They gave us respect and never treated us like we didn’t belong.”
As the camp went on, Fox felt his confidence growing. “I thought, ‘OK, maybe instead of passing it off, I’ll try to take the rush this time,’ things like that. I think I did well and I don’t think I was out of my league.
“For me, confidence is a big deal,” he continued. “If I’m not confident in what I’m about to do then I’m not going to go all out. But I’ve really built my confidence all summer. In the past couple of years I have done a lot of work improving my skating, stickhandling, passing, things like that. When I first went into Triple A, I was one of the weaker players and I got a lot of ridicule from other players. They might only be joking around but you always remember it. I was really glad when I got drafted that all the hard work that I had done over the past couple of years had really paid off. For the main camp I will go in with a lot more confidence and I think I’ve picked up a lot more speed over the summer.”
While Fox admits that while he may not be the most physical player in the world, he’s not afraid to fight. “It just never really comes up,” he said. “I’ve fought a couple of times and if someone steps up and wants to fight, I’m not going to back down. I don’t take dirty checks, I don’t give a lot of sticks (but) I like to throw my weight around. I kind of get into people’s heads a little sometimes, like when you knock someone over you can get in their head. I don’t really try to egg people on so that they want to take my head off. I feel that really takes away from your own game.”
Fox felt Battalion head coach Stan Butler and his staff were using the mini camp as an “introduction. They wanted to see where we were at and they wanted to see us at the end of the summer. If we’d been working, they wanted to see who was dedicated and who was just kind of going out there and not really caring about what happens.”
Over the summer, Fox worked hard to improve his skating. “I always work on skating. Over the last couple of years my skating has improved, its done a complete turn-around. Two years ago when I was in bantam I was just out there hitting guys. I wasn’t skating all that well and I didn’t really take a lot of time to work on the skills I needed to get to the next level. So in the last couple of years I’ve been going to camps through the last few summers and I had some one-on-one sessions with (former Oshawa Generals coach) Rick Cornacchia. I took what I learned there so that I could work at it on my own. I just keep working on speed. The faster you are, the better your game can be. And then you have to work on your hands to make sure you can stickhandle while you’re skating. You can skate circles around someone but if you don’t have the puck you’re not going to do anything.”
Defence may be the most competitive position at next week’s camp with five returnees and eight draftees and free agents vying for playing time. With returning players such as Jay Harrison (named to the OHL All-Rookie team last year), veteran captain Jason Maleyko and Brad Woods (chosen last June by the Florida Panthers) joining draftees such as Paul Flache and Czech import selection Rostislav Klesla, Fox admits to a certain amount of concern about being able to nail down one of the few jobs that will be available on the Brampton blueline.
“Well I’m a little bit worried but I think I can bring a lot to the position,” he said. “I’ve played every position there is. A few years after I started (playing hockey) I even played goal. I played forward for a couple of years, played defence at Triple A. I think I have a well-rounded game and I’ve settled into defense. But I think I can bring offensive and defensive aspects to the position. So I think that if I can successfully show that, I stand as good a chance as anybody.”
Fox feels that, at this point, his mind may be the strongest part of his game. “I think a lot on the ice, ” he stated. “I think very quickly. I’m not going to make the stupid play, see the wrong play and throw the puck away. I know where I want to give the puck. If I see someone with the puck, I try to read where they are going to pass it and pick off the pass.”
One of the biggest challenges facing any potential OHL player is being able to juggle schoolwork with the demands of their junior hockey career. It’s something Fox has been thinking about. “That’s a big thing because I’m always thinking, you know, after hockey, what’s it going to be? If I make this next step to the OHL, what am I going to do afterwards? If you don’t go into the NHL, you have to really work hard, dig deep and get a job in the real world.”
When it comes to school, Fox, who last year attended Brampton Christian School, describes himself as “your basic teenager. I don’t like school, but I know I have to do it. I have some classes in the low 70’s and some classes in the mid 80’s. I don’t have bad marks but there are times when I get frustrated with school.”
Fox has been exploring his options in case he is unable to secure a spot with the Battalion. “My goal is to make the highest step possible. Right now, the Battalion are my number one priority and I’d really like to make the team. But if that doesn’t happen, you have to move on from there and see what you can do after that. If I can get my college or university paid for (by playing NCAA hockey in the U.S.), that would be the next best thing.”
A Colorado Avalanche fan, Fox also likes to watch physical defencemen like Ed Jovanovski. “He’s a hard-nosed defenceman, not afraid to throw his body around. I always remember him knocking (Eric) Lindros around,” he added with a smile.
Down the road, Fox sees himself possibly working as a “teacher. Whether it’s with younger kids, or people my age, I like to encourage people or give advice. I would like to be able to share what I have been through with other people. For the past few years I have thought that teaching is what I want to do. I work with summer camps and that’s really good experience. I like doing that a lot.”
When he’s not on the ice or playing other sports, Fox says he can be found “on my couch, playing my guitar”, citing Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton as two of his favourites.
Battalion fans can see Jordan Fox and his fellow draftees, along with all of the returning players from last year’s team, during intersquad games that will be taking place every day from September 2-5 at the Brampton Centre.