A Case Study for Parents
By Randy Uens Total Sports Staff
A life in hockey is a dream for many Canadian athletes. How you accomplish that goal is up for debate. Traditionally Canadian players looked immediately to CHL and Major Junior Hockey as the primary route to reach their goals of playing the sport they love professionally. As hockey has evolved, players have more choices and alternative routes to achieve these goals have become more prevalent. Nothing illustrates this fact more than the stories of Daniel Panetta and Cam Supryka.
Panetta and Supryka will forever be connected. Lifelong friends, teammates and neighbours, the pair were bound by a bonded past which saw them go to school together, live next door to each other, play hockey together from TimBit to Midget minor and then both to be drafted by the Peterborough Pete’s in the OHL draft. Following the draft they each took very different paths. “We have been friends forever,” says Panetta. Soupy and I started playing together in TimBit and it all ended when we were drafted together to Peterborough”.
That celebration culminated with Supryka, drafted in the 3rd round and Panetta drafted in the fourth round dancing around in excitement in front of their houses after they were both selected by the Pete’s in the 2017 OHL Draft. ”We had a pretty good team in minor midget that won the bronze medal at the OMHA championships. We were ranked in the top 10 for most of the year in Ontario. Said Panetta, “ Ten guys were drafted to the OHL from our team. To get drafted to the OHL was a validation of all the work we had put in up to that point.”
Supryka echoed that sentiment, “Being around the OHL with my dad, (Former Assistant coach in the OHL ) the OHL was always my goal. To get there was a dream come true.”Supryka immediately signed with Peterborough and completed a standard Education package that guaranteed him four years of school should he not be signed to an NHL contract.
It was at this point the lifelong friends took different paths. Panetta’s brother Jacob had committed to Colgate University in the NCAA and was enjoying a successful start to his NCAA career. Colgate coaching staff had made very strong overtures early that they would like to commit to the younger Panetta for a full scholarship to the prestigious “Small Ivy” school that plays in the ECAC. “After seeing the games and the atmosphere at my brother’s games as well as the priority my parents placed on education, I felt that this was the right path for me.
These are the difficult decisions families must make often early in their young players’ careers. CHL “Schoolboy packages” vary team to team and are dependent on what round you are drafted in.
Often it is set at a year or two guaranteed with extra years added on based on service while others get a full four years covered upon signing.
Other nuances include timelines to utilize the package, amount of the yearly dollar value and whether it is all encompassing or just books and tuition. Standard timelines are that you must use the package within 18 months of completing your tenure with the OHL Club. There is anecdotal evidence of this timeline being extended by some teams allowing players to make a go of it playing pro.If they sign an NHL contract the School Boy package is null and void or it can be activated once the player feels their opportunities to play NHL are not available at a particular point. Many players will complete their CHL tenure then move into USports, Canadian University hockey, by accessing the money accumulated in the education agreement. Although the value of the Schoolboy packages vary, it is usually based on the tuition fees of the university closest to where you live. You are not forced to attend that school, but your value of your package is often based on these metrics.
“The OHL is the fastest route to pro for a player. I wanted to be a pro and focus 100 % of my effort into becoming that player.” Said Supryka.
Sacrifices are made.
Cameron signed with Peterborough in his rookie year and saw limited action while being farmed out to the Lindsay Muskies in the OJHL. “It was tough moving from home at first but I was anxious to get going and determined to prove myself. I learned a lot that first year about what it takes to play in the OHL.”
Panetta on the other hand stayed at home. Deciding to pursue the NCAA route precluded him from joining the Pete’s. Panetta signed with the Wellington Dukes of the OJHL, which saw him, take a significant role on the team as it worked its way to a league title and a spot in the National Championship RBC Cup final. “Having that experience as a sixteen year old was so valuable. Playing with older guys and understanding what it takes, especially during a long playoff run made me want to be a pro even more.” Blessed with a strong work ethic and good speed, Panetta has seen first hand what it takes to be a pro.
Andrew Shaw, his first cousin, is the personification of an underdog, in that he got to the NHL due to hard work and tenacity, something Daniel has in abundance.
Supryka, a smooth skating and skilled defenceman never found a permanent role in Peterborough with its deep defence corps. Supryka was traded to the Hamilton Bulldogs, a young and talented team that was in a bit of a rebuild.
“Getting a chance to play more, especially with a large group of younger players was great. Hamilton treated me great and I appreciate the opportunities that I received while playing there.”
Supryka was on the radar for the 2020 NHL draft but was passed by in the annual cattle call. “It was a little disappointing but at the same time it was only my first year of eligibility for the draft. I can’t control what happens in those situations but it does inspire me to continue to work harder and get stronger to realize my goals of playing pro.
Before the start of the 20/21 season, Supryka found himself on the move again. Sarnia Sting made a trade for Supryka that saw Colton Kammerer, a former minor hockey rival from Whitby, go the other way.
Panetta meanwhile had completed his third year with the Wellington Dukes. A pandemic shortened season saw the first place Dukes poised to make another run at a National Championship before the Covid 19 crisis halted play.
Once again the speedy forward was a key player for a veteran laden team. “It is too bad that we were unable to continue. I felt like our team was as good if not better than the one that went to the National championship in my first year.” Personally Panetta had to deal with his own challenges.
Entering the NCAA as a “true freshman” is a difficult task. Entering as a true freshman means that you join the NCAA team as soon as you complete high school at 18. Not many players are able to make that jump.
Panetta and his family recognized the value of taking a gap year. 20/21 was to be the year that Daniel would join the Colgate Raiders and start his NCAA career.
“We had been talking quite a bit with the team and they felt I needed a little more seasoning in junior”, said Panetta. For some this may be viewed as a setback but this is very common. The average age of a NCAA Freshman is usually 19 turning 20. “I want to go to school and make an impact right away. If that means putting in one more year of junior, so be it.” Said Panetta.
The other suggestion made by the Raiders was to explore playing elsewhere besides Wellington. “Colgate thought that it was best for my development to get me out of my comfort zone and play in the BCHL. I loved playing for Wellington but I am excited for the opportunities I have gotten with Salmon Arm.”
Derek Smith, Wellington Dukes coach said, Daniel is a great player and we don’t usually let a player of his caliber go as easily as we did. Daniel and his family have been a big part of our organization and we owed it to him to help him continue along with his development path.” It was deemed in Daniels best interest that a change of scenery would help him get to the next level. A trade was made which saw Daniel become a Salmon Arm Silverback for the 20/21 season.
20/21 and Covid 19 have not been kind to hockey or to hockey players looking to develop. Leagues have been frozen and there have been limited opportunities for teams to play games.
The BCHL allowed for some limited games early in the season that saw Panetta become a valuable asset on a competitive Salmon Arm team.
Meanwhile Supryka toiled away training in hopes of the CHL being able to find a start date that worked for the league and the health authorities.
“I really started to get anxious to play. I was working hard and getting skates in but it wasn’t the same as being around a team environment.” Said Supryka. With that the young defenceman began to look at options. Supryka along with a couple of other friends from the junior ranks made their way to Austria to play for Linz in the Austrian junior league.
“The hockey is not as good as the OHL but quite competitive. The training regimen is outstanding and I feel that I have made tremendous improvements in my game since I have been here.”
Austria has had off and on shutdowns similar to Canada however the hockey teams have been able to consistently stay active and play games intermittently. Supryka would be allowed to release back to Sarnia should the OHL be able start with a limited season.
In November, Panetta signed his National Letter of Intent, which is the final step that confirms his spot with the Colgate hockey team for the 21/22 season. “I’m excited for the opportunity to get started with Colgate. I am still hopeful we get a chance to play here in BC and win a championship before I head off to school.”
Should the OHL Season not begin, Supryka would be back in Sarnia for the 21/22 season and compete for one of the Overage spots. He would be expected to be a lock for one of those spots. He as well as Panetta are eligible for the 21/22 NHL draft. Even if these players are not drafted, there is a rich history of players being signed as free agents after being passed over in the NHL draft.
For parents to get a perspective as stated, Panetta and Supryka played on a Quinte Red Devil team with ten OHL draft picks. Four are still playing in the OHL. Two others have received NCAA scholarships (including Panetta ) with one of those players being drafted to the NHL. Three more are playing in the CJHL still pursuing scholarships and one is playing Jr.C. It’s not easy.
Due to their hard work and perseverance, both Panetta and Supryka have put themselves in a position to succeed not only in hockey but academically as well. The opportunities to play pro and develop are still available with the safety net of an education to fall back on if the dream doesn’t pan out.
For Panetta, he still has four years of NCAA to develop and get stronger in order to have a shot at playing pro. Over 30% of the NHL is coming from the NCAA with a number of free agent signings occurring every year.
For Supryka, he will await to see if his name is called in the 2021 NHL draft. He will continue in the OHL and finish his Overage year in 21/22. Following that, it is inevitable that he will have some free agent opportunities.
The choice will be does he pursue those free agent opportunities immediately and decide on school later or go to school first and pursue the opportunities after.
Wherever these two talented hockey players end up, they are testament to their hard work and commitment to getting better everyday. Both have made sacrifices and persevered through adversity. The Quinte Red Devils organization is proud of their accomplishments thus far and the future is bright for them both.
Photos by: Ed McPherson
OJHL Images Panetta #12 of the Wellington Dukes
Photo: Shawn Muir / OJHL Images
Cameron Supryka Lindsay Muskies 2017