By Matt Mackinder -
It’s rare when a 16-year-old rookie makes an immediate impact in the Ontario Hockey League and Plymouth Whalers’ rookie Matt Mistele wasn’t one to buck that trend last season.
Mistele was in and out of the line-up, but the complaints never came. Not once. Instead, he showed a mature sense of reality all while playing as the youngest player on the Whalers and one of the youngest in all of the OHL.
“I think my first year went well,” said Mistele. “Obviously, I was one of the younger guys on a team with a bunch of big-name players, so I just worked hard in practice and off the ice and tried to take advantage of the time I got and by the end of the year, I think I really came around and improved under the wing of some of the older guys and my coaches.”
Drafted in the second round of the 2011 OHL Draft out of the Whitby Wildcats organization, Mistele ventured south of the border with an open mind – another sign of his maturity level.
“The change from Canada to the States wasn’t that difficult besides the fact that school starts at 7 (a.m.) instead of 9,” explained Mistele. “One guy that really helped me out in my first year was Tom Wilson. He kind of took me under his wing and showed me how to go about the changes. Obviously, there were a few things that we’re a shocker like having 7,000 kids at your school instead of 500, but the teachers and coaches really helped us out in that area.”
Last season, Mistele played just 28 regular-season games for Plymouth and recorded three goals among five points. He added five more points in 12 playoff games. Mistele said that while he never had permanent linemates, but was always ready to hop onto the ice when called upon.
“I can’t really say I had two linemates that I really played with all year,” said Mistele, who still won’t turn 17 until October. ”It was always switching around, but on the team that we had last year, it didn’t matter who you played with because everyone was so talented and played a certain role. Whether it was Cody Payne and Mike Whaley on the fourth line or Mitchell Heard and Wilson on the second line, I was always playing with guys that would make the game easier for me, which I really appreciated as a rookie.”
Now with training camp just around the corner and the start of the regular season not far behind, Mistele knows this next season is key to showing he belongs in the OHL.
“This offseason, I have been working out and skating at Twist Whitby,” said Mistele. “Heard and (Plymouth defenseman) Chris Albertini both work out there with me as well, so I’m surrounded by good people and players. We skate four times a week and are in the gym five days a week, so we’re keeping busy.
“My expectations for the team are to try and reach the Memorial Cup that we felt we missed out on last year and with the knowledge of hockey systems and the group of guys coach (Mike) Vellucci has put together, I feel that is well within reach. For myself, I just want to build on last year and keep working as hard as I can every day, get stronger and faster and be an impact player on the team this year every game.”
Spoken like a player mature beyond his years.
Veteran defenseman Curcuruto acquired, Dempsey sent to Soo
To start off August, the Whalers shored up their back end by acquiring veteran defenseman Gianluca Curcuruto from Sault Ste. Marie in exchange for 17-year-old left wing Mitchell Dempsey, Plymouth’s top pick in 2011 (11th overall), and 16-year-old center Dylan Mascarin.
“With three defensemen leaving from last year’s team (captain Beau Schmitz and Austin Levi, who both signed with Carolina, and Dario Trutmann, who will play in his native Switzerland this season), we were looking to add more experience to our defense,” said Vellucci. “Curcuruto is a young veteran who will help.”
Curcuruto was originally chosen by Sault Ste. Marie in the first round (14th overall) of the 2010 OHL draft and was selected in the seventh round (182nd overall) by Columbus in this past June’s NHL draft.
“It wasn’t something I went out and asked for, but when the opportunity presented itself on the table, I discussed it with my family and we just went for it,” Curcuruto told the Sault Star. “To move forward in my career, I think a fresh start would be great. I’m definitely excited for the fresh change and the upcoming year. I just can’t wait for the season to get started.”
The 18-year-old defenseman scored four goals and added 38 assists in two seasons with the Greyhounds.
Dempsey played 34 games last season and tallied a goal and four assists last year. Mascarin was drafted by Plymouth in the fifth round (93rd overall) of the 2011 OHL draft and had not seen any action with the Whalers.