GLENDALE - Dylan Strome's experience at the 2017 Memorial Cup was bittersweet. The Coyotes' prospect was named MVP of the prestigious tournament after leading all players in goals (seven) and co-leading in points (11), but his beloved Erie Otters came up one win shy of the grand prize.
"Obviously you'd like to win," Strome said. "Being with the guys and battling through games and practices for so long, to come up a little short was tough to deal with. The personal stuff didn't really matter to me; losing in the Final was tough to swallow. But it was a really cool experience and cool to play against teams and guys that you're not used to playing against. Plus the whole city of Windsor was talking about it the whole time we were there and there was a great buzz around the tournament. It was really well run and organized, and a lot of fun to be part of."
Strome's junior hockey career ended Sunday when Erie lost to host Windsor in the Memorial Cup Final in a match-up of two Ontario Hockey League teams. Ironically, Erie had defeated Windsor twice during the regular season.
"It was frustrating," Strome said. "We played against them twice this year and we beat them in Erie and out in Windsor. For whatever reason, they had our number this week. They were really well rested and played well, and didn't play like that versus us during the regular season. They implemented a game plan and stuck to it."
The Erie Otters made Canadian Hockey League history this season when they became the only team to post four straight 50-win seasons. Strome played on all four teams, and was captain the past two seasons. He said he's proud of what he and all of his present and past teammates accomplished, and is sad to leave after 288 games.
"It's tough and it's emotional," Strome said. "Playing for the same team for so long, and living and growing up there in Erie, it's obviously tough to leave. But everything has to come to an end at some point. It was a great time for me, probably the best four years of my life, and I learned a lot and got to win a (league) championship. I have nothing but great things to say about that city and the people that are there who made me feel like I was at home all the time."
Strome turned heads at the Memorial Cup when he produced a tournament-record seven points (four goals, three assists) during a round-robin game vs. Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champ Saint John on May 22.
"To see him put up seven points was very rewarding," Coyotes General Manager John Chayka told SiriusXM NHL Network. "That wasn't in just an OHL game, that was against a league champion and playing against top competition. To break a record like that tells you a lot about Dylan."
After playing 57 games for Erie this season, plus seven for the Coyotes and seven for Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championship, Strome will take a short break before turning his attention to next season. He plans to hit the gym hard this summer to increase his strength before NHL training camp starts in September.
"I'm very excited to see what happens next," Strome said. "Hopefully I can continue to get better and have a good camp and make it back to the NHL and stick. My goal is to play all 82 games for the Coyotes next season."
Chayka is eager to see how Strome competes at training camp.
"He's such a good kid," Chayka said. "He works hard and he loves the game … Dylan has kind of taken his time to mature a little bit, which is fine with us. It's important to us that we get it right and that he becomes an impactful center because they're so hard to find. They are pretty much impossible to sign or trade for, so you've got to draft and develop them."