Going into the OHL Cup tournament in late March, speculation among agents and scouts was that none of the three players who had applied for exceptional player status with Hockey Canada was going to be granted the designation. And that’s when Michael Misa went to work to change the hearts and minds of those who would decide his future.
Misa had heard the talk himself. Everyone had because nobody loves to gossip like hockey people do.
So he took matters into his own hands, scoring 10 goals and 10 assists in seven games to lead the Mississauga Senators under-16 team to the championship.
“That was the mentality I had,” Misa said between periods of an OHL playoff game in Barrie, where he was watching his older brother Luke play for the Mississauga Steelheads.
“But on the ice, I just tried to be the very best I could every time I stepped on it and that’s my mindset every time I go into a game. I wasn’t thinking about it too much.”
All Misa did was beat Connor McDavid’s points record in the tournament … and give the arm’s length panel appointed by Hockey Canada and the Ontario Hockey Federation reason to revisit its decision. And because of that, the future of the Saginaw Spirit lies on the shoulders of a 15-year-old Grade 9 student at Oakville Trafalgar High School who was fitted for braces three months ago and, if truth be told, doesn’t feel terribly comfortable promoting himself.
The Spirit won the draft lottery that was conducted among the four teams that didn’t make the playoffs, which gives them the right to draft Misa with the first overall pick in the draft Friday night. A news conference is scheduled Thursday in Saginaw to introduce Misa as the newest Spirit player.
As an exceptional player, Misa will play in the league as a 15-year-old, which will make him a year younger than every other player in the league and give the Spirit an extra year before Misa’s NHL draft year in 2025.
The jump from under-16 hockey to one of the best developmental leagues in the world is a significant one, even for a player who has already blown out 16 candles on his birthday cake.
But the reality is that Misa is uniquely prepared for the challenge because he’s been playing with players a year older since he joined the Port Credit Storm novice team as a six-year-old under young, unproven coach Chris Stevenson. The Storm became the Mississauga Senators with Stevenson at the helm and a core group that won all-Ontario titles at the under-11 and under-13 levels before being robbed of the opportunity to compete for an under-15 title by the pandemic.
“It’s something I was ready for from the time I started playing paperweight,” said the five-foot-10, 150-pound centre. “I was always one of the best players on my team and I’d like to continue that.”
There will be pressure for Misa to do just that with the Spirit, who finished with the second-worst record in the OHL last season. In reality, there’s enough pressure attached to the nomenclature of the designation itself, not to mention the fact that it has been filled by the likes of John Tavares, Connor McDavid and Connor Bedard.
“Pressure is always going to be there at every stage of hockey,” Misa said. “When I’m on the ice, I just kind of try to block it out and play hockey. That’s what I do best. Playing a year up, there’s always been pressure on me.”
Misa’s teammate and fellow centre Malcolm Spence is expected to go second overall to the Erie Otters. If that happens it would be four times in the past five years that the No. 1 and 2 overall picks were from the same team.
Spence almost certainly would have gone first overall had Misa not been granted exceptional status. There’s a good chance every Senators’ skater, with the exception of William Moore, a 15-year-old who applied for exceptional status and was denied, will go in one of the 15 rounds of the draft. The fact that Misa and Spence will be the first two players picked doesn’t surprise Stevenson.
“It’s two amazing players whom I’m glad are being recognized for their abilities on and off the ice,” said the Senators’ coach. “I don’t think you go that high without being recognized as a good person off the ice as well. Everybody was saying all year that Malcolm was going to be No. 1, but he’s been nothing but supportive of Michael through this entire process.”
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