Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on 49 Sports Network on January 10th.
On the eve of the OHL Trade Deadline, there is lots for the league to reflect on with many big names on the move across Ontario as teams look to start bulking their rosters for the playoffs. With that being said, we take a look at the Niagara IceDogs who shocked the country with a trade on Thursday, sending Akil Thomas packing to the Peterborough Petes.
Thomas, a native of Toronto, just touched down in the city on Tuesday, this coming after winning gold overseas with Hockey Canada at the World Juniors Championship. While his name is one that stands out, he’s not alone on the OHL trade market as Serron Noel left the Generals on Wednesday, this following a trade to the Kitchener Rangers.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Niagara IceDogs led the charge on Thursday as hours prior to their meeting with Thomas, the team dealt Philip Tomasino to Oshawa. For teams like the Generals and IceDogs, this kind of handy work isn’t unusual as they are known for their bigger name trade hauls, that being the divide between themselves and the league.
As such, we take a look back to the 2017-18 season when the Niagara IceDogs dealt Zach Shankar, a Canadian defensemen, to the Windsor Spitfires. Shankar, who now resides with the Ryerson Rams of U Sports in Toronto, recently had a chance to look back at the time he spent in the Ontario Hockey League.
When speaking with Benjamin Steiner of 49 Sports on Thursday evening, Shankar, 22, reminisced with the media as being shocked when he was traded to Windsor. In greater lengths, when asked of his memories and how it has effected him as a player and person, the left-handed shooter said, “Yeah, in my OA year, I was traded like January 3rd or something to Windsor from Niagara and I didn’t see it coming, so it was kinda tough, but met a lot of good guys in Windsor, most of them are still on the team now and they’re having a great run, so it’s good, I got to make more friendships and memories.”
Shankar, who is a native of Prescott, Ontario, just outside of Greenville, joined the OHL back in 2014 after having been drafted by the North Bay Battalion. Having been selected 40th overall in the draft’s fourth round, it allowed the 6’1 defensemen to spend three seasons while adjusting his play.
Looking back on his OHL playing days, Shankar joined the Battalion back in 2013 where he quickly got comfortable and used to new surroundings before being labeled as North Bay’s alternate captain.
Speaking of adjusting to change, his challenges didn’t just come on the ice as he found himself having to find a new billet family upon joining the IceDogs and again with the Spitfires. When asked what that was like after Ryerson’s win on Thursday night in Toronto, Shankar told the media, “Honestly, it was fine. I was lucky enough to have four great families in my junior career and I mean, yeah, they just treated me like I was their son, I abided by their rules, treated them the way I wanna be treated and it was great.”
Such experiences are seen as memorable during a player’s sudden change in reality, this also helping them to settle in elsewhere, providing an impact in all facets of their life. This was just the case for Zach Shankar through his OHL service time as change was mandated in his everyday life, whether this be happening on the ice or not.
Today, Shankar, back home, is hitting the ice with the Ryerson Rams where the team is working to bump up their standing mark while remaining hopeful to clinch a spot in the playoffs. Perhaps Thursday night was a good start, beating the Varsity Blues to snap their 15-game win streak.
While Jesse Barwell broke open the scoring in the dying seconds of the game’s first first period, it only started a back-and-forth contest that would end in overtime with a Ryerson victory. The 4-3 win for Ryerson would hand the Rams a seven-game win streak which allowed Shankar to tie the game up at two and then wrap things up with what would be the game-winner.
In addition to his two goals against Toronto, Shankar was given the helper to Jesse Barwell, this finding him labeled as the hero for Ryerson while leading the Rams en route to the victory. With the victory being booked on Thursday, the Rams would take their final meeting 4-3 while remaining untouched to kick off the new year as they head to Laurier to take on the Golden Hawks.
Shankar, at this point in the season, has scored four goals while adding six assists, this making for a total of 10 points registered in 20 games played in his second OUA season. When asked about his mindset particularly going into a game of this magnitude on Thursday, Shankar told the media, “I don’t know, I think we just focus on us more than we focus on them. I mean, obviously we knew coming in they had a big win streak going, top-five team in the country and I think when you just focus on what you can control, then you give yourself a good chance and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
When asked about his stellar defensive game, this being a primary role for Shankar, he said in regards to how he sees it best fit, “Yeah, I like to pick my spots obviously. You know, like I ended a shift, if I’m tired, I won’t go, it’s just whenever I can, I’ll jump up and hope to make a play.”
With Ryerson in the middle of the pack, they are in a difficult situation understandably and when asked where it is he seems himself and his Ryerson teammates by the end of the season, Shankar closed in saying, “Hopefully at the top. I mean, we’ve been playing good, we’ve just gotta keep staying, keep getting better, keep elevating our game and it’ll be hard for us to lose games going forward.”
Ryerson, now 14-4-1, returns to action in Waterloo on Saturday when they pay a visit to Wilfrid Laurier with puck drop scheduled for 7:07pmET. The game, which is set to be played at Sun Life Financial Arena in Waterloo, is available for viewing on OUA.tv with coverage to follow on 49 Sports.