Love of the game drives talented Ho-Sang

By Jason Menard
Josh Ho-Sang - Windsor Spitfires

Photo: Windsor Spitfires forward Josh Ho-Sang is considered a potential first round selection for the 2014 NHL Draft (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 

His father’s Jamaican, his mother’s Chilean, he speaks Spanish, has a dark complexion, and bears an Asian last name across the back of his jersey (thanks to a Chinese-born great grandfather who married a Jamaican woman). The Windsor Spitfires' Josh Ho-Sang stands out in a predominantly white sport, but he said that he hopes his may be the face of the game’s future.

“I feel like because I’m of colour that I can say more,” he explained. “There’s a lot of poor coloured people and I think that’s why hockey is such a hard sport for them to get into. That’s why I think that as parity in wealth grows in the world, it will grow also in hockey.

“I mean, imagine if you had a LeBron James in hockey — I feel there are a lot of NBA players who could play any sport. If they played hockey all the way through, you’d have a 6’9 power forward.”

By no means is Ho-Sang the only non-Caucasian playing the sport, but Ho-Sang said as more different ethnicities start having the financial opportunity to play, they’re going to embrace the game and contribute to its betterment.

“There’s a lot of room for the game to grow,” he said. “Even when I’m done playing hockey, you’re going to see the size is going to change, the speed is going to change — it’s going to be a completely different game.”

His multi-ethnic background has brought about some admirers who look to him as a role model, a role he’s proud to embrace.

“I think it’s really cool because I’ve gained a lot of fans from different cultures,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of African-American and Chinese people come to me and say, ‘You’re doing us proud’ and that’s really inspiring.”

And Ho-Sang said he’s appreciative of the opportunities provided by his parents’ hard work and dedication. His father, Wayne, is a tennis pro, and his mother, Ericka, buys challenged businesses, improves them, then sells them.

“My father has told me about the challenges of coming to Canada from Jamaica with no money,” he said. “Now we’re well off and it’s given me this opportunity to play this sport and eventually earn a living from it.

“It’s inspirational what they were able to do.”

Ho-Sang is making the most of that opportunity. He was given an 'A' rating by NHL Central Scouting in its “Ones to Watch” list of North American skaters. In a preliminary NHL mock draft, Canadian sports broadcaster TSN had him projected as the 20th-overall selection.

Based on personal experience, Ho-Sang said he’s not taking these early kudos too seriously.

“I don’t really think it means anything, because there are guys that I got drafted ahead of who are doing better than me — truthfully, it’s the fact of the matter,” he said. “I’m not really worried about it, our team is on a roll right now and hopefully we can keep that going. I know that if the team does well and we’re winning then obviously everything will come together.

“It happens with the top players — MacKinnon winning the Memorial Cup, Taylor Hall winning the Memorial Cup. That’s what I’m focused on — helping to get our team there, be a part of that, and play well every night.”

He also said that a bit of stubborn streak may have held him back from reaching his full potential in the OHL. Consider it a lesson learned.

“Last year I felt [the pressure] a lot. Especially since I was always very successful playing minor hockey, I guess doing things my way,” he said. “I found very quickly in the OHL that you can’t do that all the time. So I’ve learned from then that I need different things in my game — I’m trying to be smarter on the ice.

“I personally feel that I have the skill to be one of the best players in the draft this year, but I need to focus on the little things to get there.”

That added maturity has led to a better ability to weather the ups and downs of a long season. Part of that comes from listening to some of the older guys on the roster, who have been through the NHL Draft process.

“[Thursday night] was the classic example. I didn’t play my best game and a lot of the guys who have gone through the draft said, ‘Josh, don’t even worry about it. The draft year was the worst year of my life.’” he said. “You want to smash your head against the wall every time you play badly because you think that it’s the end, but you just have to bounce back and play better next game — that’s all that matters.”

Ho-Sang also values the advice that he’s been getting from his coaching staff — head coach Bob Boughner and general manager Warren Rychel — even though their games didn’t exactly mirror the offensively focused one that Ho-Sang plays.

“Because they’ve been there, they’re obviously a lot tougher than a normal coach. They know what you need to do to make it,” he said. “Obviously they played very different styles in the NHL as opposed to what I’m playing, but that’s helped me develop as a player.

“They’ve seen lots of skill guys and they’ve played in the NHL against them. They know what their strengths were and what their weaknesses were, so they’re trying to get the weaknesses out of my game and push up the strengths.”

Athletics has always been a big part of Ho-Sang’s life. His father is a renowned tennis pro, but, while he enjoys the sport, the racquet didn’t have the same appeal as a hockey stick.

“He’s the best coach that I’ve ever met in my life — I’m not just saying that because he’s my dad,” Ho-Sang said. “He breaks down the technical side of the game and he provides things to me that other coaches may not necessarily say.

“I still play tennis. I love tennis. It’s a great sport, but it’s not one of those things that appeals to me. Hockey’s the game that I love and there’s nothing like being out there and skating on the ice with the puck.”

Ho-Sang said that he can draw many parallels between on-court and on-ice success, including the need for focus.

“In hockey, some can kind of hide in their shifts if they don’t necessarily have a good one,” he said. “But in tennis you have to be focused all the time [to be successful]. You always have to be aware and your reactions have to be exceptional to play at a high level and that’s the same as hockey.”

As he approaches his draft experience, Ho-Sang knows he needs to focus on taking care of his own zone. While he’s expected to improve on his 14 goals and 30 assists from last year, he knows success will come from a commitment to defensive play. He said that was part of the reason that he didn’t receive as much ice time last year as some expected.

“It’s just my defensive side of the game — obviously that was a big factor last year,” he said. “I know that I have the offensive ability. You’re not always going to make the puck go in the net, you can’t always control that, but I just try to make plays and try to keep the puck out of our end and keep the puck in theirs.”

In addition to the tactical and physical improvements he knows he needs to make, Ho-Sang said he wants to focus on the passion that got him to where he is.

“I’ve always loved the game since I was younger and it was just one of those things that appealed to me,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest things for me this year, just getting back to having fun. That’s always why I’ve played hockey.

“When I’m out there, it’s always just the best time of my life; there’s nothing that quite compares to being out on the ice.”