|Medicine Hat's 5-foot-8 forward Tyler Ennis, the Tigers' scoring leader, looks to the NHL's Martin St. Louis and Daniel Briere for his inspiration.|
The diminutive center from the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Western Hockey League cites Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Daniel Briere of the Philadelphia Flyers and his coach, Will Desjardins, as big influences on his game.
Desjardins was an undersized center who played for the Lethbridge Broncos in the mid-1970s and has become one of junior hockey’s most respected coaches during the past six years behind the Tigers’ bench.
Ennis, who stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 160 pounds, said that Desjardins has been a major factor in his success so far.
“He’s been awesome,” said Ennis, an 18-year-old native of Edmonton. “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had. He’s got such great confidence in me. He’s a smaller guy, too, and I think he appreciates skill and speed. I think he’s excited to put me out at certain points in the game. He’s been great for my career.”
That confidence has been paying big dividends for the Tigers. Ennis is tied for fourth in WHL scoring and leads Medicine Hat with 23 goals and 55 points in 42 games. He has 10 points in four games since returning from the Christmas break and was named the WHL Player of the Week last week.
“It’s hard to say anything about Tyler that hasn’t been said or that doesn’t sound a little bit understated,” said Tigers associate coach Shaun Clouston, a third-round pick of the New York Rangers in 1986. “He’s electrifying at times. I think he’s worth the price of admission a lot of nights. I think our fans really enjoy watching him. Every time he touches the puck you can feel the buzz. You just kind of expect him to create something.”
Ennis was rated fifth among WHL prospects in the NHL Central Scouting preliminary rankings released in November. His scouting report sounds familiar. He’s a small player but has the grit and determination to get to the danger areas - a fearless competitor. It sounds a lot like St. Louis and Briere, his favorite NHL players.
“Obviously I’m a smaller guy,” Ennis said. “I think I’m quick. I like to use my speed. I’ve got great linemates and I use them often. We’ve got some pretty good chemistry. I think I have a decent set of hands and I like to beat defenders one-on-one. I like to be creative. I think that’s really important with the new rules – you can use your speed and be creative and that’s a good thing.”
Desjardins has guided the Tigers to two WHL titles in the past four years and four straight Eastern Conference regular-season championships. After playing around the .500 mark for most of the first half of the season, the Tigers have won eight of their past 10 games despite playing eight straight road games in December.
Ennis said the players feed off of the success the Tigers have enjoyed recently and that his experience in the Memorial Cup last May in Vancouver helped him prepare for his draft year.
“It’s helped a lot, obviously,” said Ennis, who scored twice in the Tigers’ round-robin win over the Plymouth Whalers in the championship tournament. “I think our run last year was really important for me. It showed me that I have to really prepare for each game. Going down that stretch, every game is so important and you have to focus so much and play every game with that mentality. It just gives you that edge or extra boost of energy – you might have a little bit more energy than your opponent if you are that prepared.”
It doesn’t take long for Ennis to come up with other role models that have been important in his hockey career. Like all young hockey players, his parents have been a huge part of his success.
“Obviously every hockey parent is vital to the success of their kids,” Ennis said. “I talk to my Dad all the time still. I call him after every game. He’s been a great role model. He was a hockey player, too, and understands the game really well. My parents have always been there for me. They are the two most important people, for sure.”
As far as the upcoming NHL Entry Draft is concerned, Ennis hasn’t spent a lot of time worrying about where he will get selected. He’s too busy worrying about helping the Tigers win another championship.
“I try not to think about (the draft) too much,” said Ennis, who helped Canada’s Under-18 team win a gold medal in 2006 and will get serious consideration for Canada’s entry for the next World Junior Championships. “Obviously it’s a really exciting year for me. I think that any guy that is in my situation can’t think about it too much because if you do, your mind is elsewhere and I think your play starts to drop. I think you just have to take it one game at a time and just have fun out there.
“That’s what I’m trying to do right now and it’s going pretty well.”