At first, Ottawa 67’s forward Travis Barron didn’t believe it.
“I thought it was just a joke,” said Barron, recalling an October trade that brought former teammate and best friend Drake Rymsha to the Nation’s capital.
The peaks and valleys of an NHL draft year are no secret, something made much easier when you’re going through the journey with a friend, a brother, and a former teammate.
“He’s like my brother, I’ve lived with him and I’ve known him for pretty much my whole life,” Rymsha said. “It makes things a lot easier out there when I’m together with him.”
Rymsha and Barron, two 17-year old forwards, found themselves reunited in Ottawa thanks to an early season trade that saw the London Knights send Rymsha to the 67’s for a 2018 second round pick. Rymsha, a draft pick of the Knights, left home at the age of 14 and moved in with the Barron family in Toronto where he became exposed to the GTA and the OHL in Major Bantam.
The pair went on to finish second and third in scoring for the GTHL’s Minor Midget Toronto Jr. Canadiens, behind only Jakob Chychrun, before going their separate ways in the OHL Priority Selection.
“We started off everywhere together: our OHL draft year together, our first day of high school together,” Barron said. “I’ve travelled the world with him.”
Things took a sharp left just 14 games into Rymsha’s time in Ottawa, as he broke his femur that required surgery — a recovery that was expected to last until mid March. Rymsha worked hard and came back early, returning to the 67’s in time for a three-game homestand two weeks ago, helping his club to four of six points over the long weekend.
“It’s just great having him here and having him back after those long three months,” Barron said. “We’ve got a good thing going on the ice now. I just love (Rymsha), he’s a brother to me and I’m excited for the next couple of years together.”
Both players have been identified as potential mid to late round picks in the 2016 NHL Draft and are now showcasing their abilities with Russian import Artur Tyanulin on their right side.
“We have good chemistry out there, we know where each other are, we can get on each other without the other person getting angry at the other,” Rymsha said. “We have a special bond together and we’ll friends for the rest of our lives.”
After representing the USA at the Ivan Hlinka and playing in the All-American Prospects Game in September, the 5-foot-11 power forward packed his bags and left the only OHL team he knew.
Leaving a perennial powerhouse in London to join a rebuilding 67’s squad was something that Rymsha saw as an opportunity. From being low on the depth chart in London to playing a greater role in Ottawa, the hard-nosed, two-way forward was ready to take full advantage of the opportunity in front of him.
“I can’t thank the Hunters enough for what they did for me for that year and a half, they improved me as a hockey player, but it was time to move on and get more opportunity and I’m just happy coach Brown picked me up,” Rymsha said.
With the NHL Draft at the forefront of their minds, the two have plenty of current and former teammates to look to for advice and guidance. However, not many have suffered an injury like Rymsha’s or nagging injuries like Barron has gone through the past few months, a situation that takes it toll on young players.
“It sucks sitting the stands, especially during your draft year, so it takes a toll on you mentally and you’re sitting in the stands like ‘man I wish I was out there right now’, but you control what you can control is what my mindset was,” explained Barron. “You really just have to play it by ear and hope for the best.”
As a team, the 67’s struggled to find their rhythm on a consistent basis earlier this season, and when their captain, Flyers draft pick, Travis Konecny left for the World Juniors, the feeling was the offensive dynamo would return to Ottawa.
The situation played out much differently than expected; before Konecny returned to Ottawa, head coach and general manager Jeff Brown traded Konecny and overage forward Sam Studnicka to the Sarnia Sting for a pair of youngsters in Sasha Chmelevski and Chase Campbell, in addition to nine guaranteed and two conditional draft picks.
“That trade didn’t slow us down; we got younger and we got two good players in return and a boatload of picks,” Barron said. “Look at us run now without those two guys in our lineup. It just increases roles for guys like myself and guys in the lower lines to step up and become those go-to guys and we’re really gelling together, we’re working hard, and good things are happening.”
“Obviously it’s a big year for me and with [Studnicka] and [Konecny] getting traded it opened the door for a lot of us to get more opportunity and I just wanted to come back and make as much of a difference as I could,” Rymsha added.
With the trade of Konecny and Studnicka, the 67’s immediately went into a re-tooling mode, and though fans were upset to see their captain and former first overall pick leave, the presence of Rymsha and Barron as well as the rest of the young core will go a long way in returning Ottawa to what they were no less than a decade ago.
“I love it here. It’s the time of your life in Ottawa,” Barron said. “I hope I’m going to be an even bigger piece of the puzzle next year. We got a young group so I’ll be looked towards as a leader next year going into my third season.
“We want to bring a Championship here and we want to be what we were ten years ago: a winning franchise all the time.”
As friends, teammates, and linemates, Rymsha and Barron hope to bring a title to Ottawa before their junior career comes to a close.
But first, the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo where the two hope to hear their name called, and potentially, forge on their relationship as teammates.
Article by Daniel Deschenes