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It's mind over matter with Ennis

by John McGourty

Despite his diminutive size, Tyler Ennis finished the 2007-08 season with 91 points in 70 games with the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers, tops among first-time draft-eligible players.
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The great middleweight and welterweight boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson was the athlete first graced with the compliment, "pound-for-pound the best fighter of all time." Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard saw him and agreed.

Medicine Hat Tigers center Tyler Ennis holds that title among players eligible for the 2008 Entry Draft, to be held June 20-21 in Ottawa. Ennis, the Western Hockey League leader in goals and points among first-time draft-eligible players, is listed on the WHL web site as being 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds.

"I'm up to 162 pounds," Ennis said. "It wasn't that hard to gain weight. I lost a little weight during the season, but put on 10 pounds as soon as the season ended. Besides, the published weight was wrong. I was 157 pounds when they weighed me."

Projection is the biggest variable scouts and general managers contend with when drafting 18-year-olds. How big will Ennis get? Sometimes it's wise to look at the parents, but with Ennis that is a moot point.

"My dad is 6-foot, 195 pounds, but my brother is 5-foot-8," Ennis said. "So I don't know how big I'll get. I don't worry about it. There are smaller players in the NHL, like Martin St. Louis and Daniel Briere. I'm pretty slippery and I avoid a lot of hits, but I don't shy away from the corners. I know how to get around defensemen and take the puck from them. Basically, I use mind over matter."

Ennis' intellectual game plan worked, as he led the Tigers with 43 goals and 48 assists for 91 points in 70 games. He finished 21 points ahead of the next-leading team scorer, linemate Brennan Bosch, and was fourth in the WHL behind Mark Santorelli who led the WHL with 101 points. Colin Long, who was draft-eligible last year but went unpicked and is eligible again this year, had 100 points.

Will Ennis stand up to the pounding of the professional leagues? Those in the prognostication business, from insurance to racehorse betting, generally count on what's happening to keep happening. In Ennis' case, he missed only three of his last 144 games. As Damon Runyon wrote many years ago: "The race is not always to the swift. The battle is not always to the strong. But that's the way to bet."

"The only negative is people's perception," Ennis said. "My size is a disadvantage in some people's minds. But numbers are important to them, so look at my statistics. I put up good point totals. Hopefully, a team won't look at my height and weight but my competitiveness, skill and results."

Ennis looks to former Tigers teammate Kris Russell, a rookie this past season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, for inspiration. Russell, 5-foot-10 and 168 pounds, was the 2007 Canadian Hockey League Defenseman of the Year and stepped right into the NHL this past season.

"Kris is a smart player like me," Ennis said. "He's not big, maybe 170 pounds. He told me to get strong, work hard and be motivated and not worry about my size."

Ennis believes his success in the 2006 Under-17 World Hockey Challenge, an event that matches five Canadian regional teams against five international teams, helped him believe he could play at an elite level. Ennis was named to the event's All-Star team, along with forwards John Tavares and James Van Riemsdyk, defensemen Thomas Hickey and Mark Katic, and goalie Brad Phillips.

When he returned, he helped lead Medicine Hat to a WHL title and into the Memorial Cup title game.

"The U-17 was important to me," Ennis said. "The only scorers ahead of me were Tavares and Sam Gagner and he played in the NHL this year. I won a WHL championship and played in the Memorial Cup. We fell short but I've had a very successful career so far.

"I set high goals for myself this year because I knew I was an elite player. My coaches played me in all situations. I played most of the year on a line with Brennan Bosch and they rotated other forwards. We had a good combination of things working for us."


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