Life moves fast in the Ontario Hockey League.
If you’re not contending, you’re building. Older talent and experience is shipped out for picks and prospects. Legacies are left behind for new beginnings — and others hopefully can learn from those lessons and step up to fill the void.
Lost in all of this are the relationships. It’s a game, but it’s a game played by people. And for 2020 NHL Draft eligible forward Tyson Foerster, losing Ryan Suzuki — a linemate and close confidant — hurts.
“I was pretty upset, but it’s just the way it goes,” Foerster said, hours after Suzuki’s trade from the Barrie Colts was announced, adding that he hopes to continue benefitting from the lessons he learned from his talented linemate. “He’s obviously so skilled with the puck and so confident and I just wanted to be like him. Every shift he works his bag off and I just wanted to be like him. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Foerster said that Suzuki made a commitment to him last year, as he was en route to being selected in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes.
A similar pledge.
“He told me last year that he was going to try to get me drafted,” said Foerster, 46th in Future Considerations’ Winter ranking for the 2020 draft. “He did a good job, I’m doing pretty good right now . And when he left he said ‘don’t worry, you’ll be fine.’”
Foerster is currently in the top-25 of OHL scoring with 51 points (23 goals, 28 assists) in 40 games. He’s already outpaced his totals in 64 games last year where he accounted for 10 goals and 23 points.
He said opportunity — and the aforementioned Suzuki — has been a big part of his success, along with a growing confidence.
“I think more ice time [has helped],” he said. “I’m playing a lot more so it’s giving me more and more confidence each game, so that obviously helps. And [Ryan Suzuki] obviously helped, but he just got traded today, so I’m going to have to find a way to contribute — just like when he was hurt. Last year I was playing fourth-line minutes — and not that much. This year, I’m on the power play, I’m killing penalties, I’m doing it all. And I’m skating with the puck more. I feel more confident with the puck so that helps.”
And now, Foerster said he needs to step up his leadership on a young Colts’ squad.
“I think I have to. I’ve been here almost the longest out of everyone because we’re so young,” he said. “I feel like I have to be a leader and contribute more and more.”
Warren Rychel, who was relieved from the Colts organization Tuesday, agreed with that sentiment and had plans for the young forward.
The loss of Suzuki also gives Foerster the chance to step up in other facets, too.
“They’re both offensive players, but Tyson’s pretty good defensively — he’s better than Ryan was defensively. They had a good ham-and-egg passing combo, but you know how this league works,” Rychel said in an interview last week. “People are coming in. [Evan] Vierling’s a great passer. He’ll pop into his spot and they’ll grow together.”
Rychel is effusive in his praise for Foerster and sees a lot of potential in him for the future.
His success is led, in part, by his attitude.
“He’s just a kid that loves coming to the rink. He wants to be a part of good things and he’s always in a good mood — and that translates into his on-ice play. He’s got a really good, quick stick. Quick shooter,” Rychel said, “He’s got really sure hands when he comes around the wall or he’s got to knock the puck down. He reminds me a little bit of Ray Sheppard from the 90s — that’s who my comparison is for him.
But that doesn’t mean there’s not room for growth.
“He’s going to be a good player, but like all young players he’s got to work on his game and, in particular, his skating — it’s average right now, but as a finished product he’s probably not done until 23 or 24 years old,” Rychel added. “He’s a real straight-up skater, doesn’t have a lot of muscle in his body right now as an 18-year-old. Obviously his posture will get lower as he gets older and become a better skater as time goes on.
“I imagine he’s going to be a pretty high pick in this draft and I can’t say enough about him. I love working with him. He’s a guy who’s gaining a lot of attention and it’s warranted.”
The attention could intensify.
And with all the changes to the team, Foerster said he’s looking forward to leading the team into the second half of the season — and to a bright future of which he hopes to be a key part.
“I think we just need to play hard. We lost a lot of guys, but we brought in a bunch of new guys too and they’re really skilled from what we can see. We brought them in for a reason,” he said. “I think if we play our game, we can have a good outcome for the rest of the year. We’re really young, so I think we can have a great season next year.”