Blackhawks fans may remember Garret Ross from his mic’d up video from last summer’s Prospect Camp, when the fifth-round draft pick dropped the gloves with a fellow invitee and, after the scrap, commented, “We should go again...we’ve gotta give [the fans] something better than that.” While the clip showcased more grit than skill, Ross has plenty of offensive ability to go along with that sandpaper.
Greg Gilbert, Saginaw Spirit head coach, calls Ross “a competitor and a warrior,” and Blackhawks Director of Player Development Barry Smith praises both his physicality and high hockey IQ, saying, “He’s another guy who has found a way to stay on top wherever he goes.”
Indeed, Ross has made the most of his opportunities over his four-year stint at Saginaw. When he was appointed captain on Jan. 10, he already had 21 goals and 22 assists in 36 games. He was tasked with replacing his predecessor, not just in a leadership role, but in position as well, moving from wing to center for the first time in his OHL career. The result? In 20 outings since Jan. 10, Ross has nearly doubled that number, and now has an astronomical 40 goals and 83 points in just 55 appearances, seventh-most in the league as of March 4.
As Saginaw tries to lock down a playoff spot—they currently sit in eighth place in the Western Conference with a 29-26-3-3 record—Ross spoke to chicagoblackhawks.com about his breakout year, making the adjustments as a pivot and his current NHL role models.
Your games played and point totals have increased year after year in the OHL. Do you feel like you’ve discovered new areas of your game as you go?
Experience has a lot to do with it. It’s a tough league to play in, and for some people, you just need a year or two to adjust. Once I adjusted, I felt like my game’s definitely improved.
It seems like you’ve been scoring even more since you were moved from wing to center earlier this season. Mentally and tactically, was it a big adjustment for you?
It was a little bit of an adjustment, but it wasn’t too bad. Once you’re on the ice and in the middle of a play, you just fill whatever position is open. The only real difference is taking draws and having a little more responsibility in the defensive end. I haven’t taken too many faceoffs in this league, and there are a lot of guys in this league who are good on draws, so I’ve definitely had to put in a little extra time after practice to work on my technique.
You’re second on the team in points and first in penalty minutes. How do you balance having that physical edge with trying to be productive on the scoreboard?
I just kind of stick to my game plan, you know? I’m a two-way forward who likes to get in the mix, get on the forecheck, lay the body and stay physical, and I just stick to that. When the opportunities come for points, they’ve been going in the net for me.
In this year’s "Scouts Picks" feature in Blackhawks Magazine, our hockey ops personnel voted you as the prospect who opponents most hate to play against. Is it fair to say that you enjoy that role?
Absolutely. There are certain little things that you need to do to separate yourself from other hockey players. I feel like I’m helping my team when the opponents don’t like to play against me. It distracts them and brings more of their attention on me, gives my teammates a little extra room. It’s definitely something I pride myself on.
You were voted “most underrated player” in the OHL’s Western Conference last season by the league’s coaches. Were you surprised to get that honor?
I actually was. Again, I was trying to improve from the season before, and I had worked hard in the offseason. I’m glad I got noticed for that by the coaches.
Being named captain in January obviously added some responsibility to your plate. Tell us a little bit about your style of leadership.
I mainly like to lead by example with my play on the ice and my actions off the ice—to be that role model that the younger guys will look up to. Also, I’m not shy to speak up in the locker room; if something needs to be said, I’ll be the first one to say it.
You were teammates with current Blackhawks rookie Brandon Saad last year. Do you guys still keep in touch?
We talk—not so often, but we definitely still keep in touch. I congratulated him on his first goal a few weeks ago. He’s got a busy season, as do I, so we haven’t been communicating that often, but we talk a little bit here and there.
Did you grow up a Red Wings fan, being from the Detroit area?
Yeah, I actually was. My friends and family obviously were giving it to me a little bit here and there, but all in all, they were just happy that I got the opportunity to get drafted.
You said last summer that your hockey idol as a kid was Nicklas Lidstrom. Which players do you like to watch these days?
I like watching Boston’s Milan Lucic—he’s a hardworking two-way forward. Also, Buffalo’s Steve Ott and Dave Clarkson in New Jersey—he’s a guy that I like to model my game after.
Are there any areas of your game that you want to keep improving in order to make it to the next level?
The biggest thing is my strength. I’d like to be tougher to get off the puck while working down low and to make it not so easy for a defenseman. Just continue to work on getting in the dirty areas and coming out with the puck.