Behind the long exam that made Shane Wright exceptional

December 2018, Shane Wright and his family were embarking on a tedious process. Wright had to prove to the Ontario Hockey Federation that he has the makings of an exceptional hockey player, but also of a human being who is just as much.

The process as we know it today that allows a gifted hockey player to play in the Ontario Junior League (OHL) at the early age of 15 began in 2005. this exam are not publicly disclosed, but we know of course those who passed it: John Tavares (2005), Aaron Ekblad (2011), Connor McDavid (2012), Sean Day (2013), Wright (2019) and Michael Misa (2022).

This is extremely rigorous. You don’t determine by shouting scissors whether a teenager has the maturity required to rub shoulders with 20-year-olds and become not only a better hockey player, but also a better individual in this context. The Ontario Hockey Federation has both a sporting and a social responsibility.

If there’s one strong clue that speaks to Wright’s good attitude and character as a young man and hockey player, it’s passing that exam. The director of the Ontario Hockey Federation, Phillip McKee, who has overseen the administrative portion of the modern exceptional player process since its inception, has agreed to dissect at the steps that made Wright a 15-year prodigy in the OHL. .

First, it is the players and their families who must initiate the process by submitting a request before December 1st.

« From that point on, I work with the family on the application, making sure everything is done in due form, » McKee explains. We need to get three or four contacts in different spheres of Wright’s medium.

“One of the contacts relates to education. We work with the school to get feedback, opinions, evaluations about it. Then we look to his coaches to better understand the player, fundamentally. Then our recruitment department is busy evaluating the hockey player, his ability to perform and have an impact at the next level.

In terms of hockey, Wright’s candidacy was concrete. His statistics with the Don Mills Flyers at the “minor midget” level in Ontario were staggering. In 2018-2019, he flew over the competition by amassing 150 points, including 66 goals, in 72 games.

But on-ice skills are only one part of the assessment.

Life Skills

“The final step is an Essential Life Skills interview (life skills interview). We bring in someone with a background in hockey and psychology to interview the player and his family.

“Then, the player must submit to a written production exercise. The questions relating to this one are directly related to the interview.”

At the risk of insisting on this aspect again, passing the exam necessary to obtain the prestigious status of exceptional player is not limited to grabbing a hockey stick and shooting into the skylight match after match to establish your superiority in minor hockey.

The young hockey player must prove that he belongs to a special group of individuals in many aspects of life.

Once all the steps have been completed, the information collected is submitted to a special Hockey Canada panel responsible for the final decision. The panel must answer yes to several questions before returning a positive verdict.

“Playing in the OHL at 15 is a huge leap. Is this an opportunity for success? The answer here is not based entirely on the absolute skill of the player. Would that put the player in the best position to grow individually, as a player, as a human, as a person?

« Yes, you can play in the OHL as an exceptional player, but will you develop all the tools necessary to become a good person in everyday life? Becoming a good human being off the ice growing up at 15 with 20-year-old players. »

And the obvious question: would continuing to dominate his cohort outrageously represent an obstacle to the development of the player?


Rigor without compromise

Wright ended up ticking all the boxes. He became the fourth exceptional in Ontario in the space of eight years, which could raise many eyebrows and question the credibility of this status which must by definition be highly exclusive. Moreover, three years later, Michael Misa in turn obtained the privilege.

But make no mistake, emphasizes McKee, no candidacy is obvious and taken lightly. Not Shane Wright’s. Not even McDavid’s.

“No decision is easy. The panel has to juggle so many different variables for each player.”

If he was involved in Wright’s candidacy strictly from an administrative point of view and was not part of the famous panel, the director of the Ontario federation found the contacts with the Wright clan pleasant.

“My experience with the family has been very positive. They were open to communication, willing to try to understand the process to best support their son. They were determined to see it flourish in the best possible way.”

high performance human

Over the years, McKee has spotted a pattern in athletes passing the exceptional exam.

“They are dedicated to their goal. But they are not just hockey players. Academically, they were very strong. Their communication skills were also very strong, as was their ability to interact with adults as well as with their peers. Then there are their skills on the ice. They are well-honed athletes and equally well-equipped human beings. I’ve had the chance to accompany each of the exceptional players in Ontario in this process since 2005. Each time, I have had this impression.

“Our best players are not only high performance athletes, but also high performance humans.”

A high performance human. The review determined that Shane Wright was one. The Kingston Frontenacs then made him the youngest captain in OHL history, at 15.

The general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, Kent Hughes, let it be known that the organization would target a player of talent, but also a player of character, a leader.

If passing the Ontario federation’s rigorous examination doesn’t convince you, there will always be this story told by the GM of the Frontenacs, Kory Cooper, to Sportsnet.

“We are in Peterborough for a preseason game. After the bus ride home, everyone gets out, but Wright stays in the back of the bus to clean things up.

« I just think it’s a unique story: out of all the guys, it was Shane Wright who was there, alone, making sure it was clean. »

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