If persistence is a virtue, Lucas Theriault and Dakota Betts could be the most virtuous players on the Niagara IceDogs’ roster.
The first-year centre and defenseman took unconventional routes to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), debuting at ages 19 and 18, respectively.
Waiting the additional years made donning the Niagara sweater just that much sweeter for the pair, who appeared in a combined 151 Jr. A games before cracking the IceDogs’ lineup.
“They’re more accustomed to the speed and size of everything then guys coming out of minor midget.” commented Niagara IceDogs Head Coach Burke. “They’ve played against older guys for two or three years now. They can at least handle the physicality, but there’s no tier-two league in the world that will get you totally ready for what you’re going to see here. As long as the guys do it the right way, and don’t try to force things, that’s what keeps them in the lineup.”
Lucas Theriault agrees that the time he spent in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League served him well in helping him develop skills and a complete game.
“I worked out my skills and smartness of the game,” said Theriault. “I need to be quicker, faster and play in all ends of the ice. I kept working hard, kept putting the puck in the net and good things happened. I always wanted to play in the OHL and I finally got here.”
Skating for his hometown Soo Thunderbirds, the 5-foot-8, 165-pound pivot made his mark, earning NOJHL’s Most Improved Player honours in 2018-19. While setting career highs in goals, 40, assists, 36, and points 76 over 51 contests, Theriault’s impressive offensive flair continued into the postseason leading the league with 28 points and 13 goals over 19 matches, helping his squad to a finals appearance.
The IceDogs’ 12th-round selection 224th overall in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection has earned the trust of his bench boss through his first 11 OHL games.
“He’s a guy I can rely on”, said Billy Burke, “He’s a strong centreman, good on faceoffs. He’s very smart, and you can see it in the little things he does with and without the puck. You can tell he’s an older guy even though it’s his first year in the league.”
While Theriault is instilling confidence in his head coach, rearguard Dakota Betts’ versatility has the organization thrilled.
Acquired on August 30th from the Kitchener Rangers, Betts has settled into his new surroundings. He has seen action on both defence and forward in Niagara this season. For the natural blue-liner, his ability to play multiple positions has earned him praise from his coaches.
“I can put him up at forward, and he can skate just as well. He’s a big guy, he’s gritty. We think he’s going to be a real good defenceman,” said Burke.
Accrediting his time, honing his skills with Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Whitby Fury last season has led to early-season success.
“It has made me a better hockey player,” said Betts of his time in the OJHL. “Speed and skill-wise, it helped me get to where I am today.”
He appeared in 52 contests last season, tallying 17 points and hitting the twine on eight occasions. In 11 post-season games, Betts notched seven points (6G,1A). His strong play saw him named the Fury’s Rookie of the Year, while also earning invites to the CJHL’s East Top Prospects team in January, and Hockey Canada’s World Junior A Championship camp in August, representing Canada East.
For anyone, who’s ever faced challenges in achieving a major goal, Dakota and Lucas prove the dream is never lost as long you have the courage and work ethic to persevere.