Taylor Davis was a Western New Yorker for all of seven months, but he amassed a trunk full of memories to accompany him on all future hockey journeys.
Memories so treasured he doesn’t go a day without thinking about the area, even though he’s pursuing a goal that could be considered just as coveted as the championship he won during his stay here.
Davis is a 17-year-old defenseman for the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Davis helped Kenmore East win the New York State Division II (Small Schools) Championship last winter.
You read that correctly. The 6-foot, 203-pounder went from playing games in the Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation to competing in major juniors against the likes of current Boston Bruin rookie Dougie Hamilton, who played for the Niagara Ice Dogs during the lockout; and Amherst’s Justin Bailey, the Kitchener Rangers’ highly ranked prospect who is projected to be an early-round selection in June’s NHL Draft.
“It was really good for me,” Davis said of his time playing for Kenmore East and coach Kyle Pray. “Winning states was a big deal because I had never played high school before.
“There are just great memories. I enjoyed playing with all the guys. ... We were really a close team. I still think about winning states every day.”
Davis, who is from Trenton, N.J., has two goals, three assists and a minus-3 rating in 29 games for an Ottawa team that has experienced more than its share of growing pains during a rebuilding season. Among lineup regulars who have played more than 20 games with the 67’s (13-33-4), Davis’ plus-minus rating ranks tied for second-best on the team.
“He’s got good vision in regards to passing and shooting the puck,” said Ottawa coach Chris Byrne, who said Davis’ skating ability and compete level also caught his eye during tryouts. “I think he wants to be a hockey player. ... He’s played well for us this season.”
But that championship is still on Davis’ mind.
Not only does he have the commemorative poster honoring the Bulldogs’ feat, but he also has a team picture of the championship squad hanging in his room at his host family’s home in Ottawa.
Davis had fun playing high school hockey but pleasure and a title weren’t the only things he gained from his WNY experience, which included playing 41 games at Junior B for coach Jerry Shorthouse’s Buffalo Blades.
Playing in a hockey hotbed like our area and experiencing success was a confidence booster. It gave Davis enough confidence to believe he could not only make an OHL team as an undrafted, tryout player but also become a lineup regular.
Think walking-on and then playing regularly at NCAA power Boston College and you get an idea of why Yahoo! Sports Canada wrote a feature on him earlier this season.
Davis, who lived with the family of teammate Andy Sturtz during his time in WNY and two years ago played Tier I hockey in Michigan, said he received interest from Ottawa, Kitchener and Plymouth after last season. He picked the 67’s because he figured a younger team losing some defensemen gave him the best chance to make the team.
Davis hasn’t played the past month because he broke his left hand New Year’s Eve in a fight, though he had hopes of returning to the lineup this weekend. While Davis is NHL Draft eligible until he’s 20, he is at the age considered as the draft year for most major junior prospects. It’s been difficult sitting out, knowing he’s gotten on the radars of NHL scouts only to have his momentum blunted by injury.
“It really gets in your head a bit,” he said. “But I’ve just got to come back, play hard and see what happens.”
Feed men, Fed
Davis isn’t the only former Fed player to graduate to a level featuring cream-of-the-crop-type talent.
Those who played in the Federation last year who are competing in higher-level leagues this season include Davis’s ex-Ken East teammates Andy Robinson and Donnie Battista.
They are joined on the Buffalo Regals/Jr. Sabres 18-under Tier I Elite League team by Niagara-Wheatfield products Nick Matos and Brandon Schrader. Ex-Williamsville East goalie Tucker Weppner is playing for Avon Old Farms, a prep school in Connecticut.
The successes of these former Fed players prompt a question. Can the Federation be considered a stepping stone to elite leagues?
The answer depends on who you ask. This corner says yes but with an asterisk.
First, let’s get the asterisk part out of the way. Not every player in high school hockey is destined to become the next Sidney Crosby, or John Scott for that matter, and play at an elite level. If little Johnny has the goods, someone will notify him and his parents.
Why do I say yes?
If the Fed was totally devoid of talent, elite teams like the Regals/Jr. Sabres wouldn’t keep a close eye on the league, looking for potential prospects.
The Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Buffalo Junior Sabres (not to be confused with Regals/Jr. Sabres) wouldn’t be ranked No. 9 in Canada without the contributions of past Fed stars Ryan Schmelzer (Williamsville East, ninth leading scorer in OJHL with 23 goals and 60 points in 44 games) along with Williamsville North alumni Parker Gahagen (league co-leader in goalie wins entering Friday), Nolan Sheeran (18 goals, 38 points) and defenseman Darrin Trebes.
“It’s still a great avenue for kids to move on,” lonetime North and Amherst Youth coach Bob Rosen said.
“It has its place,” said Pat Fisher, the Junior Sabres’ assistant general manager and former Timon star and coach. “It all works out for the kids who are talented enough. They’ll find a way” to the next level.