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First-round hopefuls have bond spanning the ages

by Adam Kimelman

Lawson Crouse says he isn't a big talker on the ice; when he does say something it tends to be on the sarcastic side. It's a trait he's had since his earliest days in skates.

Now a highly regarded power forward for the Kingston Frontenacs and a top prospect for the 2015 NHL Draft, Crouse said one of the earliest examples came as a 6-year-old trying out for the Brantford (Ontario) Regional Selects spring team. He said between sessions he was watching other players when one skated over and asked him why he wasn't on the ice.

"He asked me if I made the team because I wasn't trying out and I just said, 'Mind your own beeswax,' " Crouse said.

The other boy, a shy kid, thought Crouse's comment was funny and had a quick reply when their roles were reversed.

"I remember I wasn't playing the next game and he asked me why and I said you can mind your own business too," said Ottawa 67's forward and fellow top draft prospect Travis Konecny.

"We just became friends after that."

More than a decade later Crouse and Konecny remain best friends and mutual support systems as they prepare for the draft, where they likely will be first-round picks. Crouse is No. 5 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters; Konecny is No. 14.

"It's someone you can be open with, communicate with," Konecny said of Crouse. "You can be open with a lot of people, but you don't really feel comfortable to ask questions and how'd this go, what did you think, how did you do, things like that."

"Not often two best friends get to go through this process together," Crouse said. "It's kind of fun. We lean on each other whenever we need each other."

It wasn't the smoothest of starts between the boys, but the friendship blossomed quickly.

"They both made the team," said Rob Konecny, Travis' father. "Mike [Crouse, Lawson's father] and I started carpooling and the boys hit it off from there. From that started the sleepovers and everything else.

"So many funny stories. The kids had a blast here at the farm, just countless stories on the four-wheelers and gators, playing with pellet guns, swimming in the pond, playing football. The big thing with Lawson and Travis is they're both happy kids and love to have fun. Whenever they're around you've got to be on their toes."

They attended the PEAC School for Elite Athletes in London, Ontario, together and were linemates on numerous minor-hockey teams growing up. The families also grew close, with Rob Konecny and Mike Crouse often sharing coaching duties.

"They'd have their meetings and we'd always be together," Travis said. "It was funny; if I wanted maybe a little something extra on the ice and I'd go to his dad and he'd go to my dad."

Konecny and Crouse accelerated their development with the Elgin-Middlesex minor-hockey program. In 2012-13 Konecny had 53 goals and 114 points in 53 games on the minor-midget team and Ottawa selected him with the first pick of the 2013 Ontario Hockey League draft; Crouse had 22 goals and 50 points in 27 games and went No. 5 to Kingston.

They were separated, but not too far. Ottawa and Kingston are in the OHL Eastern Conference and play each other eight times per season.

"They're fun games," Konecny said. "In warm-ups I'm usually a bubbly guy, trying to make a little comment and have some fun. He's all serious and trying to act totally not like him. Gives me a good chuckle."

The joking and fun goes away the minute the puck drops.

"We're two best friends but we're also the most competitive guys out there," Konecny said. "I remember a time this year we were up on them and the score was at the point where they weren't going to be able to come back at that point in the game, and I remember Law took a run at me and I said, 'Come on man, you really have to do that?' He said, 'I'm sorry, I was mad.' It's all good."

Crouse, 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, said Konecny (5-10, 175) wasn't shy when it came to physical play.

"We'd battle out there and take runs at each other," Crouse said. "We just play the game. … That goes to his character and his heart. He's not afraid of anyone and neither am I."

Konecny, named Ottawa's captain this season, was limited to 60 games in part because of a late-season upper-body injury but had 28 goals and 69 points. Scouts like his skating and determination to get to the tough areas of the ice.

"He's a highly skilled forward who never quits," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "He skates very well, has excellent speed, is not afraid to get involved in battles and has no fear of taking the puck to the net."

Crouse had 29 goals and 51 points in 56 games and also had three points in seven games to help Canada win the gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

His combination of strength, skating ability and offensive skills has Crouse positioned to potentially be a top-five pick.

"I haven't seen a guy who physically dominates opponents like this since Eric Lindros," Edwards said. "He can drop the shoulder and take the puck to the net. … He's a big-bodied guy, protects the puck and is solid on his skates. He sees the ice and moves the puck and barrels through everyone. He has real good hands to go along with that big frame."

The Crouse and Konecny families will be together in Florida to celebrate wherever Lawson and Travis get drafted.

"Looking at the timeline and all the time we spent together having fun," Konecny said. "Now it's reality, so it's fun."


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