With the 2011 Entry Draft fast approaching, it's hardly surprising that Belleville Bulls left wing Michael Curtis has been referring to a lot of things lately as "nerve-wracking."
The draft, after all, is the culmination of a lifetime in hockey for Curtis, who developed a reputation in junior hockey as a strong two-way forward. But despite a couple of challenging seasons with the Bulls, there are two other words Curtis often finds himself saying: "Winning attitude."
"Having a winning attitude doesn't need to change if a team doesn't have success right away. You always have to have a winning attitude," said Curtis, whose Bulls qualified for the Ontario Hockey League playoffs this past season, but was swept in the first round by Mississauga. "You’ve got to go into every game expecting to win. The OHL is a competitive league and every team has a chance to win every night."
He may only be 18, but Curtis speaks from experience. Growing up in Ontario, he won Triple-A titles as a peewee, atom and bantam before captaining a Toronto Marlies team that steamrolled its way to the OHL Cup, one of the biggest trophies in minor-midget hockey.
"He's a great kid. He was one of those guys who was willing to do whatever it took to make it," said Ken Strong, who coached that Marlies team to the 2009 OHL Cup. "I have a training facility (and) he would be there all the time. And it showed."
That 2009 OHL Cup win was the end of an era for the Marlies, the Greater Toronto Hockey League team that lists among its alums John Tavares, Rick Nash, and Jason Spezza. It would be the last time Curtis played with a core group he had won with at every level. The group, which became teammates at age 9 and played together for seven years, included Ryan Strome, Michael Curtis, Evan Rodrigues, Steven Strong and Luke Juha. Also part of the OHL Cup-winning team were top 2011 Entry Draft prospects Lucas Lessio, Brett Ritchie and Stuart Percy.
"You're used to hanging out with best friends and seeing these guys four times a week for (almost) 10 years. Now the guys are taking different paths, but the ultimate goal is still there for everybody -- to play in the National Hockey League," said Curtis, who had 9 goals and 9 assists in 58 games this past season, after scoring 19 goals in 67 games during his first season with the Bulls. "They all seem excited and are pretty confident that they'll get to where they want to go."
Current and former teammates have proven invaluable to Curtis through the countless ups and downs of his draft year. When he wasn’t invited to this year's NHL Scouting Combine, Curtis got some help from Malcolm Subban, a teammate with both the Marlies and Bulls and the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, a Belleville alum.
"I got to talk to P.K. a couple of times. He didn't get invited to the Combine," Curtis said. "You hope that a team picks you and you can show them that you are ready to play at the next level."
It's at the next level that Curtis wouldn't mind a reunion with his good friends and longtime teammates.
"Now you have Facebook, so they are always in contact with each other," Ken Strong said of the Marlies group. "They've all stayed good buddies and they'll be friends for life."