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Like Father, like son

Second-generation Vescio following original Centennial’s path
20200106 Vescios
Kevin and his son Payton at a recent Hamilton Bulldogs game. Photo by Ken Pagan/BayToday.

Growing up in North Bay, Payton Vescio had a lot to live up to, especially coming up as a defenceman.

His father, Kevin, was an original North Bay Centennial who moved to the city with the new OHL team in 1982, spending four seasons under Bert Templeton. Kevin Vescio was drafted by the four-time defending Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders in 1983 and later attended NHL camp with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Certainly, a lot to live up to for young Payton, but the kid is doing alright.

The youngest Vescio, 18, drafted to the OHL in the fourth round by his hometown North Bay Battalion in 2017, is settling in and contributing at the OHL level, one year after being traded to the Hamilton Bulldogs.

The six-foot-one, 185-pound right-handed shot is contributing on the blue-line, adding two goals and five points to his shut-down defensive style in 35 games this season.

“The coaches have put in a great system for us and it’s helping me and my teammates thrive so I’m just building on the opportunities I get and trying to make the most of it,” Vescio said after a recent 5-1 Bulldogs’ win over the Battalion. “I feel like my game has improved a lot.”

A season ago, Vescio got into 26 games as a rookie with the Battalion before being sent to Hamilton in January for a 2020 draft pick. He is still growing into a bigger role on a young Bulldogs squad.

“I feel like I bring a two-way game,” he said. “When the coaches ask me to go out and shut down the other team’s top lines, I can do that. If they need me to help on the power play, I can do that too. I just try to provide some leadership to the younger guys and help them develop and become better teammates.”

It doesn’t hurt that his father has four years’ experience as an OHLer, even if it was a much different game in the Cooper-Alls era of the mid-1980s. Kevin Vescio stayed involved in hockey in his post-playing days in North Bay, serving for several seasons as an assistant coach with the Nipissing Lakers in addition to dominating recreational senior skates with old teammates and being a proud Hockey Dad.

The elder Vescio has always been able to provide insight on how to handle certain situations as a defenceman.

“He played in a tougher time, so he’s helped with a few tricks to help improve my game,” Payton said. “Usually nowadays, it’s not much hockey talk between us - he gives me pointers here and there, but not always hockey talk. Growing up, he wanted me to be my best, and I take it now as him trying to just make me a better hockey player and I’m grateful for that now.

“I credit all my success to him.”

Kevin Vescio is one of two original North Bay Centennials from the 1982-83 season (along with Peter Woodgate) who remains in North Bay. He is now working for the City of North Bay in asset management after working previously in the health care sector.

He says the OHL game he watches now is more advanced than the game played in the 1980s – players are stronger and faster and the coaching and systemic play is more streamlined.

“The game is so skilled now, it’s a different game,” Kevin Vescio said. “In my rookie year, I think I got 30 or 35 points, but if I played now, I probably couldn’t get three.”

In 245 games with the Centennials from 1982-86, Vescio put up 130 points skating alongside future NHLers such as Nick Kypreos, Darren Turcotte, Kevin Hatcher, Dave McLlwain, Todd Elik and current Battalion assistant coach Bill Houlder.

Strong North Bay connection

When Payton Vescio was dealt to the Bulldogs in January 2019, he credits having a few familiar faces in the dressing room to help with the transition to the new team.

Defenceman Jake Gravelle and goaltender Zach Roy, both of Callander, had also come up through North Bay’s minor hockey system.

Roy, 18, is in his second full season with the club and has put up a 7-8-1 record with a .890 save percentage for the Bulldogs (15-19-2).

Gravelle, 19, has 13 points in 31 games in his second full season, one of the few remaining players from the Bulldogs’ 2018 OHL championship club.

“The season’s going pretty well,” Gravelle said. “We have a pretty young team. I think I read the other day that we’re the second-youngest team in the league, so with me being an older guy, the coaches kind of lean on me to lead by example. But our young guys are really getting the hang of things pretty quickly. If you look at the standings, we’re right there with everybody, so everyone’s pretty happy with how things are going.”

Gravelle is third among the club’s defencemen in scoring and sees some extra ice time on the power play.

“The coaches have been getting us to try to play with confidence more and hold the puck to make plays and the more you do it, the more it helps,” Gravelle said. “Just being put in situations like the power play and getting more minutes, that helps your game.”

Ken Pagan

About the Author: Ken Pagan

Ken Pagan is a former sports editor, reporter and avid supporter of local sports who lived in North Bay from 2002 to 2012.
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