By Silvertips staff
“A hockey player: fire in his heart, ice in his veins …”
– Author unknown
To say Montana Onyebuchi would make a sizeable impression on the Everett Silvertips roster (and really, on opponents all season) is an understatement.
Strapped at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds (and that was his recorded size, last August) and armed with a human frame befitting a 20-year old, the 16-year old Tips defenseman found not many issues fitting in with 47 games on the back end while delivering a punishing and “in your face” brand for his first season of play, much to the attention – and delight – of the Tips faithful.
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— Everett Silvertips (@WHLsilvertips) January 30, 2017
Based on the numbers and reaction from those outside the glass, Onyebuchi wasn’t afraid to mix it up in fisticuffs, and became a cult hero in the process in just his first season. A member of an athletic family with a brother excelling in football and a sister involved in a multi-sport lifestyle, he skated primarily with Wyatte Wylie or Jake Christiansen on the blue line, and took spots as a fourth line center toward the end of the season, when the Silvertips maneuvered a shorthanded roster en route to the U.S. Division title.
Silvertips scout Doug Sinclair (who patrols the Manitoba province) and assistant coach Mitch Love, playing a large role in his development with the rest of the Tips blueliners, offered their observations on the Eastman Selects product, who scored his first career WHL goal on Nov. 26 vs. Prince George:
SILVERTIPS ASSISTANT COACH MITCH LOVE:
“It started in his 15-year-old season – you could see the six-foot-two, 200-pound frame, and ‘man strength’ was on display at that age. That was intriguing as a coach. As a 16-year old he was more than willing to oblige to challenges, physically from older and veteran players in the league. That got him a little more respect and room against the veteran players in the league. ”
“It was a little unfortunate he was out of the lineup at parts of the year and with the acquisition of Aaron Irving, ice time for him and Ian Walker diminished a little bit. But with that being said, he got an opportunity to play at forward (late in the season) to show his versatility. It’s not an easy thing to do as a young kid. For his skill set, his skating is pretty good. For his strength, he’s able to get in on the forecheck and take on his opponents.”
ON WHAT HE HAS TO DO TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP:
“What you see for most midget hockey players, coming into the WHL, is the structure part of the game that’s different. You’re freewheeling a lot at the midget level and there’s not a lot of accountability for where you are on the ice. That’s important for being a good, all-around defenseman. That’s tough to take to the next level over the summer and you’re looking for more of in-season adjustments. Video, practice, and game repetition take care of that.”
“For him in the summer: building on his explosiveness, lateral feet movement, defending in the zone, and eliminating guys with his strength are big keys. For me, the biggest thing that will separate him from other kids in his draft class will be his ability to go back and make good offensive decisions on breakouts. His puck and stick skills have to be sharpened up – like grabbing the puck along the blue line and moving laterally and get pucks to the net. Those things will come as he develops into a good junior hockey player.”
SILVERTIPS SCOUT DOUG SINCLAIR:
“What I noticed in the year was improvement in his game. He had height and range to his body with a tall and athletic build. He had some pretty decent sized skates, so we figured there would be some height and athleticism. There’s a physical element in his game. He was a shutdown d-man (before arriving in Everett). He has size and plays his position well. Those things jump out right away.”
ON HIS FUTURE:
“In terms of his size, we see kids and it’s hard to tell how big they’ll be – the ‘fill out factor’. But what Montana doesn’t lack is a ‘leaner’ body type. Once it started to happen for him – and you notice his physical strength – he started to fill out. As the season finished up and he went into last summer, we could see him filling out. He looks now like he’s 19 or 20 years old. The projection was there and the athleticism and his conditioning translate into him getting bigger and stronger.
ON WHAT SEPARATES HIM FROM THE REST, REGARDING CONDITIONING:
“I do some work in the offseason at a training center (in Manitoba) and we captured footage of Montana doing box jumps and dead lifts. All the tools we use to test his strength, from footwork, sprints, dead lifts and jumps, he was spectacular in all of those areas. He worked at the summer and got better at it. He looked well put together with leg strength and body strength. He’s only 16 years old but when you see him, you look at him like a ‘man amongst boys’ type of thing.”
“He’s ahead of the curve. We document the kids throughout the year with how kids are improving. And for all of the 16-17 year olds, Montana led all categories (with physical workout sets). His dead lift was over 300 pounds.”