After competing against his country's best teenage talent for four days in December, Ottawa 67's defenceman Cody Ceci was cut from Team Canada’s 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship camp.
The experience of nearly cracking the stacked Canadian squad ignited a fire inside Ceci, who was days away from turning 18 years old.
Naturally, getting sent home was disappointing and emotional. But Ceci, the second-youngest defenceman in camp, knew he had defied expectations to get as far as he did.
"I gave myself a good shot at making the team," Ceci said. "Unfortunately, they didn't need me this year. I just took that as kind of something to fuel the fire. I think it's just helped me develop as a player, develop me characteristically.
"I just had to take that and drive myself to become a better player in the second half."
Ceci's stock for the 2012 NHL Draft skyrocketed as he developed into one of the elite defencemen in the Ontario Hockey League during a dynamic second half. His strong performance moved him up in the eyes of NHL Central Scouting, which placed him No. 6 among North American skaters in its final ranking of prospects for the draft. It's a jump from No. 16 in the midterm rankings.
"He's a guy that's got a lot of puck-handling ability, real good puck smarts," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "He handles and moves the puck excellent -- very well. He's got a great shot, and he gets it through to the net hard and accurate. I think his playmaking ability is excellent on the back end."
Ceci, who had 17 goals and 60 points -- both second among OHL defencemen – as well as a plus-21 rating in 64 regular-season games, said he considers himself "a two-way defenceman."
"I try to get up in the rush and be that fourth guy trailing," he said. "At the same time, I think I'm pretty responsible defensively and I play against the top players on every team."
Edwards said he's noticed Ceci's play reach a higher level in recent months, something he attributes to him seizing the many opportunities Ottawa coach Chris Byrne has given him. Ceci plays a whopping 30 minutes some nights.
"You always hear coaches say, 'You need your best players to be your best players,'" Edwards said. "I think that’s what’s happening here."
The blueliner was huge for the 67's in the OHL playoffs, posting 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) in 18 postseason games - absolutely shattering his previous high of three points in 12 playoff games back in 2010.
Ceci is confident he can play in the NHL next season.
"I think I have a good shot if I get the right opportunity, and I think I can step in and play a big role," he said.
That role might materialize if Ceci starts showcasing more grit. Despite being 6-foot-3 and 206 pounds, he hasn't become a physical force yet. He had only 14 penalty minutes this season.
"He's not a big, punishing-type of guy," Edwards said. "To me, that's something he's probably got to work on. He's still got to be able to contain some people at the next level. Everybody expects big guys to be punishing, hard-hitting guys. That's just not the case with a lot of guys when you look through the National Hockey League.
"As much as you love his offensive ability, I think that [physical play] is something he'll improve on when he gets to the next level."
Ceci said he's aware he needs to start using his size more effectively.
"I could probably play a little more physical," he said. "It hasn't really been a big part of my game. It should be. I might try to add to it this summer. I'm just trying to get ready for NHL camps. I know they're more physical up there. I got the size to do it, I just got to work on getting a little mean streak in me and go from there."
Ceci, who is from the Ottawa suburb of Orleans, Ont., almost never made it to the 67's. His parents told him if a team picked him in the first round of the 2009 OHL Priority Selection Draft, he could do what he wanted. If he was selected later, his future became their decision.
Ottawa took him with the 16th pick, setting his course.
"I wanted to go to the OHL," Ceci said. "So it was my decision if I went in the first. I went first to Ottawa, so they wanted me back home, too. It's worked out well."
As a boy, Ceci's parents wanted him playing sports other than hockey.
His mother, Karen, is a former figure skater and wanted him taking up her sport. But his father, Parri, a former Canadian University and Canadian Football League wide receiver, wanted his son on the gridiron.
They compromised and "combined the two," said Ceci, who has been compared to a linebacker on skates.
"My dad always didn't want me figure skating," he said. "My mom taught me to skate when I was younger."
Their decision should be rewarded at the draft.
Author: Bill Hoppe of NHL.com with files from Torie Peterson of CalgaryFlames.com