It’s always a good sign to see veteran skaters taking rookies under their wing in the summer.
In fact, it’s something Niagara IceDogs General Manager Joey Burke never gets tired of seeing, even more so now that the team is going through a rebuild.
Coming off a tough 18-39-5-1 season, the IceDogs are looking to a brighter future, and one of those early bright spots has been the relationships that have already started to form between returning players, rookies and prospects over the extended offseason.
“It’s exciting to see, as the years go on, that the players take the initiative to reach out to these young guys. Even immediately after the draft in April, all of the returning guys were reaching out to Pano Fimis and these young draft picks, welcoming them to the organization and all of that is very, very exciting to see from my end,” said Burke.
A shining example is that of returning defenceman Mason Howard and third round 2020 OHL Priority Selection pick Dylan Roobroeck. Howard reached out to Roobroeck shortly after he was drafted to the IceDogs, and the two have been in touch ever since.
“At the start of the summer, I texted him and we’ve been buddies this whole time. Now he texts me all the time,” said Howard of his gym partner and new teammate.
The two players have been training together at The Garage Gym & Training in their hometown of London where Howard has been able to help Roobroeck prepare for his upcoming rookie season, guiding him through workouts that he’ll see at the OHL level and providing tips on what to expect when he gets to camp.
“Stretching is obviously a huge thing you have to do in the OHL so I’ve been trying to make sure he’s doing proper stretching and also making sure he’s taking time before and after his workouts to stretch and make sure his body’s prepared,” said Howard. “Being on the assault bike is obviously a big deal, it’s helpful for conditioning. We’ve been doing the hex bars and squats, trying to get our legs ready to play 60-minute games.”
Ahead of hitting the ice for his first OHL season, it’s been a helpful way to ease into the adjustment to what Roobroeck is anticipating will be a much faster atmosphere.
“Any little question, I can just ask him. And then some of the exercises and workouts I’m doing right now I could expect down in Niagara,” said the 6-foot-3 centreman, who posted 32 points with the London Jr. Knights last season. “It’s a good experience to be working out with him in the summer. You learn something new when you workout with him.”
For Burke, it’s not at all surprising to see a player like Howard taking the initiative to help out.
“To see a guy like Mason Howard, who’s just an absolute beast in the gym with us and is one of the hardest working guys you’ll find in the league off the ice, to see him taking Dylan in and to see him mentoring him in the summer and making sure he’s doing all the right things, I think it’s going to make huge, huge strides for these guys coming into the season,” he said.
While both skaters will play different roles, Burke believes working alongside someone with a strong work ethic, like Howard, will do wonders for Roobroeck’s development.
“The grit and intensity and prowess that Mason brings to his work ethic every day is unmatched, the effort is always there,” he continued. “All these guys on the ice have the tools for it. The ones that succeed are the ones who can put it all together off the ice. Certainly Mason has that and we’re confident through working with Dylan that he’ll continue to improve that way.”
And while the expectations for his immediate impact aren’t set too high just yet, Burke and Howard are certainly impressed with what they’ve seen so far.
“Just getting to know him over the summer, he’s always on the ice, always on the gym,” finished Howard. “It’s always nice to see a guy that hungry make the OHL as a 16-year-old and I think he’s doing to be very successful in the league.”