Young men and women across Canada are chasing their hockey dreams seven days a week, 365 days a year. For some, that dream can be pursued from home; for others, such as a trio of Chatham-Kent Cyclone graduates, they have to leave home to find the open door of opportunity.
Chatham’s Dede Cato and Jake Reed, along with their former Cyclones teammate Kody Gagnon of Belle River, have all signed to play Jr. A hockey hours down the 401 for next season, as Cato and Gagnon will play with the OJHL’s Toronto Patriots, and Reed will suit up for the CCHL’s Carleton Place Canadians.
While not the OHL, both teams are considered among the best Jr. A programs in Canada, and they annually graduate a half dozen players each to the OHL and NCAA.
For these locals, the decision to move away from home in their last year of high school seemed simple for one reason, an opportunity to chase their dreams.
“Carleton Place is a great organization with tons of notable successes,” said Reed, who played Major Midget ‘AAA’ in Windsor last season. “It’s a proven winning organization and I know I can get lots of exposure to universities and whatnot out there, which is the avenue I want to go.”
“I feel Toronto was the best option for me by how much exposure I will get up there and the level of hockey,” added Cato, a Chatham-Kent Secondary School student who was the Dresden Jr. C Kings rookie of the year last season.
“Toronto was the best option for me because I feel that their recent successful years reflects on their great coaching staff, management, players, and even community,” reasoned Gagnon, a six-foot-two defender who was the Belle River Jr. C Canadiens rookie of the year in 2014.
“A lot of their players have had successful careers who have played there and that also reflects how good the organization is and I cannot wait to be a part of it.”
It seems the distance from home for young players seems to mean little, as long as the opportunity is there.
“It didn’t matter where the team was located,” said Gagnon, the only of the three drafted by an OHL team, as he was a ninth-round pick by the Barrie Colts in 2013. “All that mattered is I chose the team that would best develop me as a player and helps further my career.”
While some of their peers, such as James McEwan, Brendan Johnston, and Trent Fox, will likely find themselves in the OHL this season; this trio is taking a different route. Cato, for instance, has attended multiple OHL mini-camps this year, being invited back to the main camp for each, gained interest from teams across Ontario. For him, rather than playing Junior B at home, moving away is a chance to grow as a hockey player and person.
“I chose Toronto because think it will be a good experience for me to grow both as a hockey player and a man. I am hoping to make a good name of myself for the upcoming season and to keep on improving.”
Reed, who hopes to go the NCAA route, said being welcomed by Carleton Place, made his decision to leave home much easier, as he’ll be billeting in a community near Ottawa, more than 600 kilometres from home.
“When I went to mini-camp they were really nice to me and treated me as part of the team,” said Reed of the Canadians organization. “It was a new opportunity for me and a new experience, and the town was absolutely amazing.”
For Gagnon and Cato, both defenseman known for their offensive abilities, they’ll take an added bit of Chatham-Kent with them to Etobicoke, where the Toronto Patriots play, to help ease their transition; they’ll be going with each other.
“I’m happy that I get to live and play alongside someone I know and have also played with and against,” said Cato of Gagnon. “He’s a great guy and an awesome hockey player.”
“Knowing that Dede is playing with me will make it an easier transition from moving from my hometown to Toronto,” said Gagnon. “I will feel more comfortable that I know he will be taking this new journey with me.”
The challenges of moving away from home to new teams, new schools, and new communities won’t be easy, but with the ultimate goal of the OHL or NCAA, and eventually the NHL still in sight for this trio of local hockey players, nowhere is too far to chase.