Trocheck, OHL’s scoring king, looks to stop Knights’ consecutive coronation

By Jason Menard

Vince Trocheck - Plymouth Whalers

Photo: Plymouth Whalers forward and Florida Panthers prospect Vince Trocheck, shown here playing for the Saginaw Spirit, is looking to secure his second title in 2012-13 after winning gold with the USA at the 2013 U20 WJC (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The Plymouth Whalers are looking to storm the castle and prevent a second-consecutive OHL coronation of the London Knights — and they’ll be relying on their own scoring king to lead the charge.

And, despite a season of dominating OHL netminders, Florida Panthers’ prospect Vincent Trocheck is throwing out the Knights and Whalers’ one-two finish and is taking nothing for granted.

“The playoffs are a completely different season,” Trocheck said. “When you come into it, what you did in the season doesn’t matter. It’s a completely different series.”

But what Trocheck has done both in the regular season and the post-season has been outstanding. He’s already earned the Eddie Powers Trophy as the OHL’s scoring champion and he’s the odds-on favorite to take home the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s outstanding player, the winner of which will be announced prior to the start of the OHL Championship series.

“It would mean a lot, but it didn’t come from just me playing hard,” he said. “I have a great team behind me here and I did in Saginaw. They gave me a lot of support. It would just mean that I’m doing my job.”

Trocheck is quick to credit his teammates — both past and present — for his success. He spent three-and-a-half years as a member of the Saginaw Spirit prior to changing squads and joining the Whalers at this year’s trade deadline. Because of the quality of his Plymouth mates, he said he doesn’t feel the burden of being the “OHL’s best” coming into this series.

“I’m not really worried about the whole top-scorer thing. I’m just going to play my game,” he explained. “If they try to isolate me, I’ve got a lot of great guys on my wing and we have three lines that are pretty much first lines.

“So if they try to focus on one line, the others will pretty much take care of business.”

If Trocheck’s career progression is any indication, the Florida Panthers stole one when they drafted the forward in the third round of the 2011 NHL Draft, 64th overall.

“I just try to improve every year,” he said. “That’s what I’ve done here in the OHL — just improved every year.”

In fact, Trocheck has been a model of consistent growth. This season, he led the OHL in scoring with 50 goals and 109 points in 63 games split between Saginaw and Plymouth. This was just the culmination of his steady progression over the course of his four OHL campaigns — a growth that’s seen him annually add approximately 20 points per season to his point totals. His rookie season ended with him earning 43 points in 68 games. The following season, he upped that total to 62 in the same number of matches — becoming a 25+ goal scorer for the first time. And last year he set the pace for a solid Spirit squad with 85 points (on the back of 29 goals).

As good as he was in Saginaw, since arriving in Plymouth his already-stellar production has increased, to the point where he finished the season at almost a goal-a-game pace (26 goals in 28 games), and he averaged over two points per game (59 in 28). In Saginaw, he racked up a +18 rating, but that number skyrocketed in Plymouth, where he’s a +31.

In the playoffs, his production has continued at its impressive post-trade pace. He’s scored nine goals and added 12 assists in 13 playoff games to date. Again, Trocheck credits the team environment for his success.

“[The trade] was definitely bittersweet — I was in Saginaw for three-and-a-half years, so they kind of groomed me into the player that I was,” he said. “I became really close friends with the guys on that team, so it was a little difficult coming over.

“Really, it’s a great team here with a lot of great guys. It’s a close bunch and they welcomed me with open arms.”

This year, Trocheck gets a crack with his new team at the club that knocked him out of the playoffs last year. In the Western Conference semi-finals, the Spirit — who had upset the Sarnia Sting in the opening round — lost a hard-fought series to the Knights in six games, after they had taken a 2-1 series lead against the top-seeded (and eventual OHL champion) Knights’ squad. Trocheck said he remembers that series well and will be expecting more of the same this year.

“It was a really good series. [The Knights] fight hard and they play playoff hockey — they’re a good playoff team,” he said. “But that’s also how [Plymouth coach Mike] Vellucci is, too. He’s a playoff hockey type of guy. It’s going to be a great series.”

It’s been a full season for Trocheck. In addition to the trade and the OHL accolades, he was a key part of the gold medal-winning Team USA club at the U20 World Junior Hockey Championship in Ufa, Russia. Trocheck had an assist on the club’s first (and game-tying) goal and added an empty-net goal in the tournament’s final game, leading his U.S. squad to the title over Sweden. Overall, he finished the tournament with three goals and three assists in seven games.

That experience propelled him to his superlative second half, Trocheck said.

“Coming back from the World Juniors is when things really started going [on an upswing] for me,” he explained. “I went over there and the coaches wanted me to play a specific sort of role. I learned, in my mind, that you don’t have to worry about everything that’s going on — you just have to go out there and whatever coach asks you to do, that’s what you have to do.

“That’s what I’ve been doing ever since I came back — playing my game, playing as hard as I can, every shift, every game. That’s helped me out.”

He also feels that the experience of playing on the international stage in a gold medal game has added yet another weapon to his arsenal to handle the playoff atmosphere.

“Oh yeah! Especially here at [London’s] Budweiser Gardens, there’s a lot of fans, it’s high pressure, so that experience definitely helps a lot,” he said.

And while he doesn’t have that draft year stress of scouts watching him, he explained the pressure is no less intense now that’s he’s been drafted.

“It’s definitely not any easier,” he said. “Now it’s just one team that’s looking at me and they’re trying to see what I can do. They’re there almost every game — especially in the playoffs. It’s not any easier, but I try not to focus on who’s watching me or who’s there.”

Trocheck is part of the next wave of Pittsburgh-bred stars — a group sown by the exploits of Lemieux and Jagr, and which continues to be sown by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“I started when I was two. The year I was born was the year after they won the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh. Hockey was getting pretty hyped up because of that,” he said. “I think that’s what got me started. Nobody in my family played hockey. My dad and my family watched it on TV and that’s what kind of got me into it.

“The Penguins had a lot to do with [the growth of hockey in the area]; [Sidney] Crosby being there has also had a lot to do with it now with younger kids growing up in Pittsburgh.”

And he said he hopes to be part of inspiring the next generation of NHL-bound Pennsylvanians.

“I think the success of the guys who are going into the OHL and NHL who have come up through this area is having a lot of impact,” he said.