Howard joins IceDogs
Mason Howard of the Thorold Blackhawks has signed with the Niagara IceDogs. Photo by: BILL POTRECZ
The Niagara IceDogs took a proactive approach when signing Mason Howard.
The 17-year-old London native had an outstanding rookie season with the Thorold Blackhawks after being selected in the 10th round of the 2017 Ontario Hockey League draft and the IceDogs wanted to strike while the iron was hot.
“He did so well with Thorold this year we truly believed if we didn’t sign him now we would lose him, be it to the NCAA or whatever,” IceDogs general manager Joey Burke said. “He’s just that calibre of a player.
“The future’s very bright so we thought we would lock him up now.”
Howard was thrilled to be approached by Niagara after collecting nine goals and 35 points in 49 games for the Blackhawks.
“They have been talking to me throughout the year, but it was kind of out of the blue when they wanted to sign me, but I was ready for it,” he said. “We started talking a few weeks ago and they were at a few playoff games I played in and I performed.”
The IceDogs love Howard’s approach to the game. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Howard isn’t afraid to use his body, but also displayed good offensive instincts as evidenced by his output.
“He brings a bit of a dynamic that we don’t have,” Burke said. “He’s a big, mean defender. While he does move the puck well and he has a cannon from the back end, he defends extremely well and is very hard to play against. He hits like a Mac truck.”
Howard played huge minutes for the Blackhawks in all types of situations, which no doubt accelerated his progress.
“It was a fantastic fit,” Burke said, of Howard playing in Thorold. “They did a great job. We couldn’t be happier.
“He’s played big minutes. He had better numbers as a 16-year-old in Thorold than Vince Dunn. We wanted to make sure he could handle the pace at that level.”
Howard had high praise for Thorold coach Scott Barnes and the organization.
“It was a good year. The coaching staff had a lot of trust in us. It was a new team with a lot of young guys. They let us do our thing and we proved we can play in this league.
“Coach Barnes and the staff were good to me. They treated me well and gave me a bunch of opportunities and I’m glad I could prove it myself.”
Barnes did his homework on Howard and was shocked he fell to the 10th round of the draft.
“He had a pretty good pedigree coming out of minor midget,” Barnes said. “Everyone I talked to who had watched him said he was one of the top age group (2001). I don’t know how he slipped to the 10th round but from everything I know he should not have been a 10th-round pick.”
The only issue with Howard is his foot speed, something he worked on tirelessly this season and will continue to do so this summer.
“That’s the only knock on him and he’s made great improvements this year with his feet coming off his minor midget year,” Burke said. “With the progress he’s already made, we’ll make sure he’s working hard on that this summer. Once those feet come along, the sky is really the limit.”
Barnes sees Howard as more than just a stay-at-home defenceman.
“He’s a solid defensive defenceman but he was rushing the puck quite a bit in our league. He has very good offensive instincts so I think he can be a very good two-way player moving forward. He’s got the ability to get the pucks on net and make plays. He’s decent with the puck for a guy with that size.
“He still has a lot of work to do but he’s a hard-working kid.”
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