The first month in the Niagara IceDogs 2016-2017 season is complete, and this season, unlike last year will be led by a group of surging rookies. Out of the many first year players, the IceDogs coaching and management staff identified one player that has, in so far, separated himself as being one of the team’s top players this month. Akil Thomas, drafted 12th overall in the 2016 OHL Priority Draft, has started his OHL career with 6 points in 11 games (3 goals and 3 assists), including this spectacular highlight reel goal vs the Erie Otters on October 6th. Thomas dropped jaws with his first career OHL goal, but, for him, it was a routine play that he had worked on endlessly. “My first goal I scored was a move I’ve worked on over 100 times on the ice with my dad.”
Admittedly, Thomas felt as though his first few games were nerve-racking, but the confidence the coaching staff has been able to instill in him has helped to make the transition smoother. “Obviously, coming into the OHL as a rookie, you don’t have a lot of confidence but the coaching staff has helped me a lot with getting confidence quick.” He also credited his linemates, Graham Knott and Johnny Corneil, with helping him ease his way into playing a faster style of play. “Playing on a line with Knott and Corneil have been really developmental in terms of adjusting to the OHL. Playing with them, I learn how to make quick plays and create opportunities and space because I feel like we’re pretty creative as a line”. He also credits Knott and Corneil for helping gain experience in situations that few rookies have the opportunity to contribute to. “play with them [Knott and Corneil] means that I’m put on in key situations, such as [if] our team is down a goal and there’s 10 seconds left or something so I think it’s great for my development physically and mentally to be challenged in these situations early. These things will contribute to experience”.
Akil was spoken of highly by IceDogs head coach, Dave Bell. Bell considers his composure, and confidence to mirror that of a veteran in the league – qualities that have been huge for the youngest team in the Ontario Hockey League. “As a 16 year old kid, he’s been on our power play, he’s been on in [the ice] the last minute of games when we’re trying to score goals. He’s scored three goals and all three have been highlight reel goals in high-pressure situations.” Director of Player Personnel, Joey Burke, echoed coach Bell’s accolades. “For a guy to come in as a 16 year old and have the first month that [Akil] had, hes been absolutely spectacular … to score in the fashion that he has early has been very exciting”.
Another key factor in Thomas’ early success this season, has been the support of his billet parents. They have been able to make him feel comfortable, and at home, despite being farther away from his family.
The Toronto native was recently selected to represent Canada White at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge in Sault Ste. Marie, ON. One game into the tournament, against Canada Black, Akil has collected one assist. Thomas, and Canada White, are set to take on the United States, and the Czech Republic later this week.
The entire Niagara IceDogs organization is incredibly proud of Akil’s accomplishments thus far, and wishes him continued success as the season progresses.