It is normal, even natural, to pattern your game after the most successful NHL players.
But if you want to learn how to live, direct your gaze a wrung below, into the American Hockey League.
When the Maple Leafs signed right winger Ben Ondrus to a one-year-contract a week ago, they returned him for a seventh season.
A 27-year-old native of Sherwood Park, Alberta, Ondrus is the longest serving Marlie. He captained the team last year. Ondrus has 336 AHL games to his credit. For every NHL contest, he has played just under seven AHL contests.
Never a scorer, Ondrus is still working toward his first NHL goal in 52 games. His best season in the AHL brought a modest 14 goals. He isn’t blessed with great size, he is about six-feet and he is not the fastest skater on the club.
But he is as tenacious as a hungry badger and the first person he backs down from will be the first person he backs down from. Ondrus is absent from the established hierarchy of minor league tough guys but he is nonetheless the master of the one-punch knockout. He does whatever you ask him to do and he will do it harder than the guy beside him. That’s just the way he is built.
Naturally, Ondrus likes the renewed emphasis on size and physical play mandated by Leafs GM Brian Burke.
“I really think he is building an organization that can produce a contender at the NHL and the American league level,” he said.
Jeremy Williams, a player far more gifted than Ondrus was cut loose this spring and picked up by Detroit. Likewise Kris Newbury, a hardrock forward whose goalscoring and penalty minute eclipse the total Ondrus has accrued.
Ondrus is back because he has what Pat Quinn always described as one of the fundamental skills for a hockey player: the ability to work hard. This year, he will be doing it for a new coach.
The club did not resign Greg Gilbert.
Ondrus isn’t concerned about having to prove himself to a new coach.
“I don’t change what I do. Whenever there is a new coach, you’ve got to make sure he knows how you operate. I’ve had great coaches all the way up and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”
Ondrus said mental discipline is the key to thriving in the minors.
“It’s your job to play, no matter where you are. You’ve got to work to make yourself better. If you look at your situation or ask yourself why situations exist where someone else goes up and you don’t, it doesn’t do you any good.”
Ondrus says he is gunning for his seventh season.
“It’s a great city, a great building. We’ve seen attendance going up. Our presence is growing in the community. We get to play in Canada. There’s not much not to like about playing here.”