By Paul Osborne, Guelph Mercury
While most teenagers might be prepping for their first job interview at McDonald’s or at a store in the mall, the Guelph Storm’s Ryan Merkley and Cam Hillis just went through close to 30 job interviews with potential employers, with millions of dollars on the line. That is a lot of pressure to put on two young men at such a tender age.
“I had a meeting with my agent beforehand and he told me about some of the criticism I might get,” said Hillis. “But I really enjoyed being able to sit down with so many teams and just talk hockey for 20-25 minutes.”
“They run through all the physical testing but communication skills help so much,” said Guelph Storm coach and GM George Burnett. “They get poked and prodded and pulled in every direction but I think it is more about the interviews and face-to-face meetings with key people in each (NHL) organization. The are investing millions of dollars in the seven rounds and they want to get it right.”
Merkley, the Ontario Hockey League Rookie of the Year in 2016-2017, started the year in the first half of the first round but some draft experts have him falling during the second half of the season. Hillis, one of the finalists for OHL Rookie of the Year for 2017-2018, had a tremendous first season with 20 goals and 59 points, with half his goals coming on the powerplay.
The dreaded aerobic fitness – VO2MAX test is the toughest challenge at the NHL combine and Hillis did extremely well. This is the test where athletes get onto a stationary bike and are asked to breathe into an oxygen mask connected to a device that measures the “amount of oxygen utilized during maximal exercise employing volume determination and analysis of expired air” according to the Sportsnet website. Translation … you pedal as hard as you can for as long as you can against increasing resistance. Hillis had the highest score of all prospects when it came to the millimeters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight. Translation … he’s in really good shape.
The weirdest question Hillis was asked was when one team showed him a picture of a bus and asked him which way it was traveling.
“I finally realized you couldn’t see the door that you’d enter the bus so I said it must be turning left,” he said with a laugh, “and that was the right answer. Took me a little while to figure that one out.”
Hillis and Merkley have played their OHL season, made the U18 national team, done their physical workouts and participated in interviews. Now it is out of their hands.
“I start working out with (former Toronto Maple Leaf and health guru) Gary Roberts this week,” said Hillis. “Then I’ll be back on the ice with (Storm skating coach) Barb Underhill and (Storm assistant) Luca Caputi and working with my own trainers.”
His fate will be known soon. The NHL draft is June 22-23 in Dallas, Texas.
From the Land of Oz…Much has been written in this space about the incredible impact recently graduated Storm defenceman Garrett McFadden has had on our local community. Never, in all my years of covering the team, has one young man dedicated himself so completely on and off the ice. He was recently named the Canadian Hockey league’s Humanitarian of the Year. His “McFadden’s Movement” raised $20,000 and more importantly raised awareness with young people across our region helping them understand the realities of mental health while pointing out that help is available. It is an award that is so well deserved.