HAMILTON –It wasn’t until Cole Craft walked into his team’s dressing room prior to the CJHL Prospects Game on Tuesday that he saw the captain’s ‘C’ on his jersey.
Team East head coach Corey Beer, of the NOJHL’s Timmins Rock, pulled Craft aside to let him know he thought the North Bay product would make a good leader for the squad in the national showcase game of the Canadian Junior ‘A’ Hockey League’s top prospects.
It was a role Craft was happy to accept and took a lot of pride in, having also just competed with an alternate captain’s ‘A’ on his jersey last month while capturing a silver medal at the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge in Dawson Creek, B.C.
Wearing the ‘C’ was also a proud family moment. During the 1988-89 season, Craft’s father, Glenn, wore the ‘C’ as captain of the Hamilton Kilty B’s junior club at the same Mountain Arena that Tuesday’s Prospects Game was played at. Glenn Craft went on to play in the OHL with the Hamilton Dukes.
“My Dad played junior hockey here and I’m fortunate to get the opportunity to get a game in here as well and kind of see what he went through playing out of this arena,” Cole said after Tuesday’s game. “And obviously, everybody on the ice was good, so I thought it was a good experience for everyone.”
The players in the CJHL Prospects Game were selected by NHL Central Scouting, with 14 of the game’s players listed among NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings for the 2020 NHL Draft in June.
Team West topped Team East 6-4 in a fast-paced, high-skilled barnburner.
The concourse was lined with NHL scouts and American college recruiters (including former North Bay Trapper Paul Castron, now the New Jersey Devils Vice-President of Amateur Scouting, as well as former Nipissing Laker Matt Paton, now an amateur scout for the Nashville Predators).
Craft, a six-foot-one winger, has turned his focus to attaining an NCAA scholarship to continue pursuing an education while playing at a high level. The former North Bay Trapper is in his second season with the Rockland Nationals of the CCHL, where he leads the club with 42 points in 37 games this season.
“I’m getting to play in every situation, which is important for me in developing as a player and off the ice as a person as well,” Craft said of his experience so far in Rockland. “I think Rockland has put a program in place that is going to help a lot of players make that next step, whether that’s major junior or NCAA. That’s what I’m working toward right now, is to get a scholarship to the U.S., so hopefully, my hard work pays off.”
As a rookie last season, Craft put up 14 goals and 47 points while making his mark on the CCHL as a developing power forward.
He is building on that this year with continued improvement.
“Cole is a true professional in all aspects of the game,” Rockland coach Dan Sauve said in comments provided to Prospects Game media. “His biggest strength is his willingness to be a net-front player. He knows where to go to find loose pucks and take away the goalie’s eyes. He is a Swiss-Army knife as he can play in any situation. As he continues to fill his six-foot-one frame, he has the potential to be a true power forward at the next level. His leadership qualities are through the roof.”
Craft said he is continually focused on improving his skating and refining his skill set. Taking part in Tuesday’s fast-paced Prospects Game certainly helped that along.
Making the experience a bit more memorable was playing alongside two fellow former North Bay Trappers, defenceman Ben Brunette and goaltender Reece Proulx.
Craft’s experience coming up through the North Bay hockey system was a positive one.
“It’s a smaller city, so you get to play with the same guys growing up and obviously playing in today’s game with Ben and Reece was a good experience -- and playing against them in the (CCHL) is fun as well,” he said. “I’ve had some really good coaches over the years in North Bay who helped me get to this point and I’m thankful for that.”