Some players go a lifetime without experiencing one of those moments; for others, like Owen Sound’s Jarrod Maidens, it can come early in one’s career and help define who they will become as a player.
The highly-regarded Maidens, who dominated at the midget level, suffered through a challenging rookie OHL campaign, dealing with injuries and inconsistency. But in overtime of Game seven of the OHL championship, Maidens found the puck on his stick — and quickly put it in the back of the net, enabling the Attack to claim a surprise championship over the favored Mississauga St. Mike’s Majors.
"It was probably one of the most important [individual memories]. It was not the nicest one, but the most important by far — it was an unbelievable feeling," Maidens said. "It was something else. Just to get to that point, with all the guys. We had a great bunch — it was the right time with the right group.
"It felt great, but it could have been anyone’s goal, I just happened to be there in the right spot at the right time."
Owen Sound head coach Greg Ireland would disagree that it could have been anyone’s goal. Although he was not with the club last season, he believes Maiden’s work ethic through the year helped him come up big when it mattered most.
"I’m a big believer in that hockey has a funny way of rewarding the hardest workers. It doesn’t always happen at the right time, but if you keep with it and stay the course, it will happen," Ireland explained. "The biggest thing is that I’ve had a number of players go through those little droughts. You talk to them and you say to them ‘I’m not worried about you, you’ll get it when we need it.’ Just keep working and doing the right things — and that’s a great example. He went through some long ups and downs with injuries and other things like that, but when the team needed it, he stayed on course, and he got rewarded.
"It just goes back to that idea that hockey has a funny way of rewarding the hardest-working people. He got rewarded and it was not because of luck, it was because of hard work. So there’s an example to him and to every other player who feel they should scoring. Stay with it, stay the course, focus on the details of the game and all of the sudden, you’ll find the puck on your stick in a key moment — and it’ll be in the back of the net."
Coming up big in a pressure-packed situation also has helped Maidens deal with the pressures that come from playing a key role on the Attack during his draft-eligible campaign.
"That little bit of experience from last year helps for sure. I’m sure all the guys my age, going into their draft-eligible year, know how much pressure there is," Maidens said. "The biggest thing is to not let it affect your game. It’s something you’ll have to deal with for the rest of your career — the pressure — so you better learn to deal with it now."
The Attack lost a fair bit of experience from its Memorial-Cup-competing squad of last year. As a result, Maidens has been expected to assume a greater leadership role on this young squad. He said he enjoys the opportunity of helping younger players learn the OHL ropes.
"With all the experience that I had last year, I think coming into this year with a younger team, you really have to bring it and show the younger guys who are coming in what to do," he said. "You want to share the little things in practice that build up to games."
And his current coach had no doubt he’d live up to expectations. After all, Maidens has experience with leadership, even at such a young age.
"He’s been really good. He’s always been looked to for leadership throughout his minor hockey career," Ireland explained. "He stepped in here last year as a mature, quiet, confident young man and the guys respected him right away. Now in his second year, he’s all of the sudden been thrust into an "A"; he’s in our leadership group.
"I always thought you can’t stand and pound your chest and say ‘follow me.’ But if you walk the walk and you do the right things, people will instinctively follow you. Leadership is an earned position — he’s earned the position and I think the guys respect him for that."
The player with the nickname "Iron" Maidens is hoping to add a little more "iron man" to his repertoire. He suffered a hip flexor injury, which resulted in him only seeing action in 47 regular-season games (Maidens also participated in 14 games during the OHL playoffs last season).
"All summer I was doing treatment on it. I worked so hard just to get it back to 100 per cent," he said. "Definitely this year it would be something to stay in the line-up and not get hurt. Playing a full season would be nice."
Maidens has already played in 15 games this year, but he’s had some challenges offensively. In his past nine games, he has struggled to produce. And while his coach knows the scoring drought must be wearing on his young pivot, he also explained that this lack of scoring could be a blessing in disguise when it comes to Maidens’ development.
"I always tell guys when you’ve been a guy who has always put up points, as media, fans, and even coaches we put expectations on the guys to do that every night," he said. "I’m always a believer that offense will come and go on you — it’ll be a little bit streaky for everybody — but the thing that we really encourage in our players is to have a secondary game. Jarrod’s really worked hard to develop that — play well without the puck, be good defensively. He’s learning to add other aspects to his game so that — when you look at the National Hockey League, there’s nobody that scores 80 goals, right?
"So you can’t expect to score every night, but if you bring other assets: shock blocking, physical game, good awareness defensively, it gives a coach a reason to keep putting you over the boards. And those are the type of things that he’s done a really good job on, and they’re the things that are going to make him a really good pro."
Maidens has embraced the concept of improving his defensive game. "When you have the puck, it’s always easy because you’re used to knowing where you have to go," he said. "I think it’s when you don’t have the puck, finding open spots, and making yourself available for the pass and using the D and the other players around you. That’s the biggest thing — just supporting the puck and finding open areas."
After all, offense is something that’s come naturally for the 6’1" center. In his final year in minor midget, he scored 63 goals and added 41 assists in 57 games. He’s continued to work on translating that offensive prowess to a much-more challenging league.
"It’s a huge step up. I found that the speed and strength are two of the biggest things I noticed, just from when I came in last year," Maidens explained. "You have to adapt into getting to certain spots quicker, and you have to make decisions with the puck a lot faster than what you could do in minor hockey.
"Nothing is ever easy — you do have to keep working at it. But once you’re in the game, it becomes a game of reactions and you have to think on the spot out there. Things just kind of happen and that’s something that develops throughout your career."
And while the goals haven’t come readily this year, Ireland has seen a number of positives in Maidens’ play. That said, he doesn’t want to see complacency settle in, either.
"We’d all like to come in and be consistent in whatever it is we do, whether it be scoring or another aspect of the game. What happens is you learn to understand. But he’s a competitive guy and you don’t want to lose that competitive fire to go out and produce every night — that’s what drives the best players. He’s got that," Ireland said. "I’m sure [the scoring slump] is driving him nuts; but at the same time it’s fuelling his game and pushing him to another level.
"Jarrod’s a pretty mature young man and I think he understands it, but I don’t want him to lose that competitive edge. We’re trying to get him to manufacture some offense in other ways than he has in the past — attacking the net with the puck from down low, going to the blue paint without the puck to get second and third chances."
The pressure of last year’s Memorial Cup run has helped Maidens deal with the pressure of dozens of eyeballs focused on him each night. He knows the scouts are watching, but he’s committed to blocking them out.
"You know they come, but you don’t really see them. You know they’re in the rink, but you’re not focused on the people in the stands. However, you know you’re under the microscope during your draft year," he said, adding that he turns to his already-drafted teammates for advice. "You ask them questions — whatever you can do to better yourself. The biggest thing, like everyone says, is to have fun out there. Keep doing what got you to this point and enjoy the moment."
Despite growing up in the Niagara Falls area, Maidens doesn’t consider himself a fan of either of the nearby NHL squads — instead, he looked a little further West for inspiration.
"[The Buffalo Sabres] were never my team, but I would go watch the games," he explained. "But being in the area you kind of just went for Toronto. Family members would cheer for them all the time.
"But my team was Calgary — I was a little mad when they traded [Dion] Phaneuf to Toronto."
Whichever team drafts the center will pleased if he can live up to the example set by his hockey idol — the Flames’ long-time captain.
"Since I liked Calgary, I always loved watching [Jarome] Iginla play. I loved how he was good at just every area of his game, that he was a great team player, and guys looked up to him," Maidens said. "I model my game a bit like him in that I try to be a leader and do all the things right to help the team succeed."
Maidens was picked fourth overall in the 2010 OHL draft. This year, he’s already been ranked 13th by ISS for the upcoming NHL draft. He’s won gold at the Ivan Hlinka. And if the call comes for the Canadian World Junior squad, he’ll be happy to answer.
"Watching [the World Junior Hockey Championship] when you’re a kid, it’s always your dream to play there, so definitely — I’m a competitive player — I’m going to do what I can to somehow, someday get that chance to play in that tournament," he said.
According to his coach, one of the things he needs to work on — and has been working on — is consistency. "Just the consistency in his game and the details: winning battles, keeping his feet moving, getting the shots off his stick a little bit quicker, and attacking the net down low," Ireland explained. "He’s a big body who could be a good power forward and I think that if he learns to take the puck to the net and create some more opportunity, then I think he’s going to see his opportunity for scoring chances increase."
Maidens also takes every opportunity to learn from others and apply it to his game.
"Just being [at the Ivan Hlinka tournament] and seeing a different place like that and being on the rink and playing against guys that you really never heard about because you’re used to playing guys around [Ontario], seeing the skill level there — it’s just something else," Maidens explained. "The guys on Team Canada were just awesome. You can always learn things when you’re in a game.
"At this point, we’ve played so much hockey over the years that it’s tough to learn something new that you haven’t seen before. But what’s important is improving the little things in your game that will help you be a better player."
Including the importance of off-ice training. "In minor hockey, you just kind of go to the rink and play your game," Maidens said. "What I learned from last year — even while I was out with the injury — is the importance of stretching and keeping your muscles ready for a game. You also learn about nutrition and the importance of eating properly so that everything stays strong."
While the Attack have started slow this year, Maidens will have plenty of opportunity to lead this squad — playing in all facets of the game and serving as a key part of the squad’s power play. He’s sure to hear his name called at the NHL draft and likely will play in many exciting games in the future.
But with such a memorable moment already in his highlight reel, will he ever be able to surpass it? He’s already taking his coach’s effort-equals-results philosophy to heart.
"I don’t know — it will be pretty hard to top," Maidens said. "But I also don’t expect those individual things. Just work hard and the moments will come."