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Overlooked no more

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Alex Friesen was living the dream.

Born and raised in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Friesen made his way through the junior hockey ranks before the OHL’s Niagara Icedogs recruited his talents in the 2nd round of the 2007 OHL Priority Selection. Hometown boy playing for the hometown team; what could be better?

Things were moving along swimmingly for the 18-year-old, who waited with bated breath as the 2009 NHL Draft approached, a draft he anticipated being a part of. With the first few rounds coming to a close, Friesen didn’t fret, he had 'late round flyer' written all over him.

No one saw the writing on the wall.

Fast-forward to the 2010 NHL Draft and again Friesen was anxious to be picked, but this time wiser understanding not everyone gets drafted (see Brunelle, Jonathan circa 2010).

This was his year though, much to his surprise and delight, and one of the hundreds of text messages he got while at home watching the draft provided the details.

“My teammate Mark Visentin (drafted 27th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes) was at the draft and he texted me before I even knew I had been drafted, before it was updated on the Internet or the NHL Network,” laughed Friesen.

“Weird way to get the news, but getting drafted was all that mattered.”

The Vancouver Canucks selected Friesen in the sixth round, 172nd overall, or as Visentin’s text to Friesen likely read: You’re going to Vancouver Freezer, Canucks just picked you!!!

“Not getting drafted in 2009 was disappointing, but it was good in that it gave me that extra motivation I needed. Finally hearing my name called, everyone wants to hear their name called at the NHL Draft - whoever tells you they don’t is lying - was a huge relief.”

As Friesen and his family look a long, deep, collective breath, so too did Vancouver’s scouting department knowing that its third pick was a solid one.

After 15 years of dreaming the dream, Friesen had 10 days before he would realize part of it. The Canucks began Prospects Development Camp June 6th with 36 young guns calling Rogers Arena home for a week; poked and prodded and pushed and pulled and tested and tested and tested like never before, Friesen felt like he stood out like Alan Thicke at the 2010 ESPY Awards, but he wasn’t alone.

When the hockey bags were packed and everyone pounded fists farewell, the prospects went their separate ways, none riding higher than Friesen, a 5-foot-10, 189-pound tenacious centre and third-year Niagara Icedog who finished second in team scoring last season with a career-high 23 goals and 37 assists in 60 games and was named Heart of the Team and Hardest Working Player in an OHL coaches poll.

“This camp was amazing. This is my first taste of an NHL atmosphere and it was great. The practices were hard, workouts were hard and it just kind of gave me an idea and was a real eye-opener for what it’s going to be like.

“I learned that it’s going to take a lot of hard work like doing some of the longer bike rides and the Grouse Grind, it showed that it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get to the next level; it’s a real process.”

If any of Vancouver’s 2010 draftees knows how to dedicate himself and make the most of opportunities, it’s Friesen. He scores thrilling overtime winners, throws his frame around (remember Taylor Hall?), holds his own when it's time to dance and takes a pie in the face like a champ.

No wonder Vancouver saw the writing on the wall.

"He's a very hard-nosed player, really good on faceoffs," Canucks GM Mike Gillis said of Friesen during the draft. “He scored in the top-three in our psychological and intelligence testing. He's not a big guy at 5-foot-10, but he's a very, very competitive player. Hard nosed, good skills, can score goals."

Now back in Niagara, Alex spends his days working out alongside brother Gary, a forward with the Brock University Badgers, and sister Julia, a soon-to-be soccer player for St. Lawrence University. All three are pushing themselves to be in peak form come September and with the first-ever Young Stars Prospects Tournament on the horizon, Alex has added incentive.

“I think this camp was a little bit of a more relaxed atmosphere then it’s going to be in September, guys will be fighting for jobs then and it’s going to be intense. That’s when you’ve really got to come out to play and play hard. It’s my first time in a tournament like this so I’m just looking forward to showing what I have.”

The Young Stars prospects tournament in Penticton, BC begins September 12. Tournament ticket packages are available online at, by phone at 1-877-763-2849 or in person at the South Okanagan Events Centre box office. Single game tournament tickets will be made available in mid-August.

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