His name is Zach Dean, and most hockey fans in this province haven’t heard of him.
Dean is a just-turned-16-year-old hockey player from Mount Pearl who will be suiting up for Newfoundland and Labrador at the Canada Winter Games which open Friday in Red Deer, Alta., and while he’s got a ways to go yet, Dean is on the right track to a career in the game.
“It’s hard to find an asset that he doesn’t possess already,” says Dean’s coach in Mississauga, Ont., Dan Del Monte. “He’s an elite skater, he’s got great hands, he’s got a bomb of a shot. He makes players around him better.
“There’s isn’t much that you can look at and say, ‘Yeah, I think this could hold him back.’ It’s really going to come down to how much he wants it, and if he wants it, he can pretty much do whatever he wants.”
Newfoundland and Labrador produces a ton of good, young hockey players … for this province. But the really good ones, good enough to take it to another level and play and produce in major junior and college hockey, are very rare.
Dean has a chance at being one of those hockey players, following in the footsteps of Alex Newhook, the best and most talked hockey player about to come along since Daniel Cleary and Harold Druken, and a projected first-round NHL draft pick in June.
Dean is a product of the Tricom Thunder AAA bantam squad, which won the Atlantic championship last season. He was MVP of that event.
This season, he opted to play in the renowned Greater Toronto Hockey League, the GTHL which has produced its share of Ontario-born NHLers.
Dean hasn’t missed a beat, piling up 30 goals and 44 assists in 46 games — according to the latest stats report — and is one of the scoring leaders on the Toronto Young Nationals minor midget (first-year midget players) team.
“There hasn’t been much of an adjustment for him, to be honest,” Del Monte said. “He came in here at the beginning and I think having been through the league once and seeing each of the teams, he’s found his comfort level and since then he’s been lights out, one of the best players in the league.
“And the GTHL gets players from all over, from the U.S. as far as Russia. This is more AAAA hockey than AAA, if there is such a thing.”
Dean isn’t certain if he’ll be going the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League route (the QMJHL holds the rights of players from Newfoundland and Labrador, despite the fact the St. John’s Fog Devils last played in 2008) or the NCAA, following the footsteps of Newhook, who is bound for Boston College next season.
Of course, they all say that, playing the college card, so it will come down to which team selects him in the QMJHL draft and which universities are offering the most lucrative free ride.
He’s a slam dunk to go top 10 in the junior draft, and will most likely be a top five selection if he commits to the QMJHL.
Dean has adjusted well to his new surroundings, on and off the ice where he lives with a billet family in Mississauga and attends Grade 10 at Silverthorn Collegiate Institiute in nearby Etobicoke, a school which supports elite athletes by offering a flexible academic schedule through the High Performer Program.
“We train in the morning before school, and then we’ll have class straight through from 11:30 until 3 p.m.,” he said. “It’s great, especially where you’re on the ice before school.”
Dean said the hockey offered in the GTHL is played a faster pace and certainly at a higher skill level than that found at home, which is that reason he’s glad he made the move before taking a bigger jump into the major junior or NCAA ranks.
“I think I’m one of the better players,” he said with the honesty and certainly the confidence the exceptional ones possess, “especially after the first month, which was a bit of an adjustment. I think I’d be considered one of the top players up here.
“This (move) was best option for me if I want to continue and make hockey a career. This was a necessary move for me.”
"If he was Ontario Hockey League eligible, he’s a top 10 pick. No doubt about it. Guaranteed." — Dan Del Monte, Toronto Young Nationals coach
“We knew he did well there (in Newfoundland), was MVP of the Atlantic championship and all that,” said Del Monte, “but we’ve had lots of kids come here from different parts of the country, and they’re like, ‘Hmm, this is pretty good hockey. I dunno …’
“There really hasn’t been an adjustment for him. He’s hit the ground running.
“I can’t say I’m familiar will all the kids in Atlantic Canada and Quebec — I’m familiar with some of the top kids — but I can say this: if he was Ontario Hockey League eligible, he’s a top 10 pick. No doubt about it. Guaranteed.”
As for now, Dean is looking forward to the Canada Games, which will be one of the final events in which he’ll have an opportunity to suit up with his buddies from home.
Despite his presence in the lineup, it’s not likely the Newfoundland and Labrador hockey team will make much noise in Red Deer. In the previous five Canada Winter Games, dating back to 1999 in Corner Brook, the province has finished in ninth place overall twice and 10th three times.
Dean’s father, Trent, was a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador men’s hockey team in the 1991 Charlottetown Canada Games. His father, and Zach’s grandfather, Bob Dean, was the first Newfoundlander to win the Memorial Cup Canadian junior hockey championship, in 1962 with the Hamilton Red Wings.