Ballard on NHL Central Scouting list

(Harrison Ballard is looking forward to developing as a player with the Wellington Dukes this season. Photo by Ed McPherson/OJHL Images)

Story by Jeff Gard

Moving to Ontario from Arizona around the age of seven was quite an adjustment for Harrison Ballard.

The change in weather alone provided enough shock value for the youngster all those years ago.

Ballard, who now holds dual-citizenship, certainly found a way to fit in as a Canadian kid by lacing up the skates and learning to play hockey despite being very unfamiliar with the sport.

“I honestly knew nothing about hockey. I was really into basketball and baseball when I was in the States. Obviously hockey is a big sport in Canada so I wanted to try it and ever since then I just really loved the game so I stuck with it,” Ballard, now 17 years old and playing junior A hockey for the Wellington Dukes, said.

“I always liked scoring goals as a kid and the excitement I got from that. Just the speed of the game, I thought it was really fun and the camaraderie with teammates was always fun as well. Those things are what made me fall in love with it and keep playing.”

Hockey helped Ballard form new friendships, which was important with the move to a new country to accommodate his dad’s job. His family moved to Newmarket and later lived in Stouffville. He played A and AA level hockey in Newmarket before moving up to the AAA level, including his U16 Ontario Hockey League draft year as captain of the York Simcoe Express where he registered 39 points in 36 games.

In 2020, Ballard was selected by the Kingston Frontenacs in the eighth round of the 15-round OHL Priority Selection. He wasn’t surprised to be selected where he was considering the circumstances.

“I decided to go the college route and I think a lot of the OHL teams didn’t think I would report which is why I went later in the draft, but I was still really glad to be drafted and thankful Kingston believed in me,” Ballard said.

Ballard considered the NCAA route to be a better fit for him and in the fall of 2020 committed to the UMass Minuteman men’s hockey program at the University of Massachusetts starting the 2022-23 season.

“I just think it gives you a lot more time to develop and also you get a great education on top of that,” Ballard, who was a student-athlete at St. Andrew’s College, said of his decision to go the college route. “Obviously UMass is a world-class program and the coaches there are amazing. The coach there talked to me a lot and my parents as well. They saw a lot of video footage of me so they just thought I had a lot of potential as a player and help them win another championship. They had a lot of belief in me and I thought it was the best option to commit there.”

Ballard has aspirations of a pro hockey career and is already getting some attention before moving on to the NCAA level.

On Tuesday, Ballard was one of four Ontario Junior Hockey League players on NHL Central Scouting’s Preliminary Players to Watch list for the 2022 draft.

Ballard wasn’t aware of the news yet when reached for comment.

“It’s my dream to play in the NHL so obviously to get noticed this early in the season is pretty awesome,” he remarked. “I attribute that a lot to my linemates and teammates and the coaches for giving me a lot of opportunity to show what I can do to those scouts. It’s definitely a great feeling.”

Harrison Ballard #14 in action for the Wellington Dukes during an Oct. 12 game in Lindsay against the Muskies. (Photo by Andy Corneau/OJHL Images)

Prior to joining the Dukes, Ballard went to Alberta with the prospect of playing for the Brooks Bandits, another top Canadian junior A hockey organization, but returned to Ontario as he considered the Dukes to be a better fit with more opportunity.

“They had contacted me before and I knew they were interested in me as a player so I thought it would be a good fit for me because they had belief in me,” Ballard said, noting he’s grateful for the chance to develop as a player in Wellington this season. That starts, he added, with Dukes head coach Derek Smith.

“He’s an unbelievable coach and played in the NHL. He achieved everything that I want to achieve one day so I think he’s going to help a lot with my development. There’s a lot of great players on our team so I think they’ll push me to be even better. Every practice is high-tempo so I think all those things will contribute to making me a better hockey player.”

Smith said Ballard, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound centre, was a great addition for the Dukes heading into the OJHL regular season. He has two goals and two assists through eight games.

“Harry’s somebody that came in the last week of training camp and what he does add is a lot of speed, some grit and with him still being a first-year junior player the expectations are going to be high for him, but he adds an element to our team down the middle that we don’t have so we’re excited for his development,” Smith said.

Wellington, now 3-4-0-1, is on a three-game losing skid following a 3-1 defeat against the Lindsay Muskies (4-3-0-1) on Sunday. The Dukes had lost 6-0 on the road to the North York Rangers last Wednesday and 7-4 at home to the Trenton Golden Hawks on Friday night.

“It’s not ideal losing three in a row, but we were shorthanded for those games,” Ballard said. “We have a couple days off here and that’s just good for us to mentally reset and regroup as a team. I think come Saturday you’ll see a totally different team with a different work ethic and different mindset.”

Wellington heads to Minden on Saturday for a 4:30 p.m. match-up against the Haliburton County Huskies (3-3-0-0).

Next week, the Dukes will play two games at the annual OJHL Governors’ Showcase which will be held this year in Cobourg. The event attracts scouts from higher levels of hockey, including the NHL, NCAA and U Sports (Canadian university).

In Cobourg, Wellington will face the Toronto Patriots on Monday, Oct. 25 at 4:30 p.m. and the Toronto Jr. Canadiens on Wednesday, Oct. 27 at 12 p.m.

Ballard considers that a great opportunity for himself and his teammates.

“I love to play in those games where a lot of people are watching. I don’t take it as pressure, I use it as motivation,” Ballard said. “I’m just going to try and keep it simple and play my game and give it 110 per cent to show my compete level. We have a lot of really good players who could get noticed by scouts so it’s a definitely a huge opportunity for everyone on our team.”