Falcons find diamond in the rough
Brandon Stojcevski has endured more than his share of roadblocks in an effort to become a junior hockey player.
The 20-year-old Toronto native was a late bloomer, standing only 5-foot-1 in his draft year. He then missed both his minor midget and major midget seasons with a pair of broken arms and took off a year to pursue his kinesiology studies at the University of Toronto.
But the lure of the rink was still strong and the big centre found himself skating for the Welland Junior Canadians last season.
Stojcevski admitted it would have been easy to give up on his dream.
“It was definitely hard seeing all the kids I played with all my life going places and doing well,” Stojcevski said. “It was the love of the game and sticking to it and the support of my dad and my family that helped me get through it.”
Stojcevski, who collected seven goals and 23 points in 46 games in Welland last season, was preparing to return to the Junior Canadians before the organization announced it was taking a leave of absence this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was crazy times,” Stojcevski said. “We were left in the dark there with what was going on with no GM and no coach. We got the news and it was a stressful day.”
Stojcevski then received a message from St. Catharines assistant general manager Zack Schipper with an offer to come and skate with the Falcons.
“I’m really enjoying it so far,” Stojcevski said. “It’s amazing. It’s great to be here and be a Falcon.
“It’s a big upgrade from last year. It’s a blessing.”
Falcons coach Tyler Bielby feels fortunate the organization was able to acquire Stojcevski.
“We’ve been very fortunate to get his rights in his final junior year,” Bielby said. “He’s an exceptional young man.
“He’s kind of flown under the radar.”
Bielby feels Stojcevski has the skill set to be an productive offensive player.
“He’s got an incredible set of hands, superior to many players in our league which was a nice surprise, and we expect him to contribute in a top six role,” Bielby said. “For a guy who wasn’t on our radar, what a nice surprise.”
Stojcevski, who has been commuting from Toronto to St. Catharines for practice three times a week, would love nothing more than to play meaningful games in his final season of junior eligibility.
“It would be incredible to be able to do what you love to do,” he said. “Nothing beats playing, especially during this tough time.
“It would be amazing. It’s been a long time.”
As far as the commute goes, Stojcevski doesn’t seem to mind it one bit.
“People call me crazy but I honestly love driving so for hockey, it’s not that bad,” he said.
The Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League has set Jan. 15 as a start date for the regular season, pending government and local health boards approval.
The Falcons haven’t played a pre-season scrimmage since Oct. 30 when the team was forced to quarantine for two weeks after multiple players tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We have Jan. 15 on our minds,” Bielby said. “It’s our driving force. Even in a week like this where we’re on the ice four nights, even though we know we’re going to have some time off with the break, we want to make sure we use the most of these next few days because we know it’s going to come awfully quick after the break.”
Bielby has been pleased the team has been able to keep the big picture in mind.
“We haven’t really wavered from that. I thought a couple of weeks ago we had once practice where there needed to be a reminder of why they were here, but for the most part they’re dedicated, they’re healthy, they’re happy to be together. They want to be at the arena.”
Bielby would love to see his charges back in action soon.
“I think there’s no question we need to play some games. In particular, it’s so confusing what the game is going to look like when the contact part is brought in,” he said. “I have players potentially not showing me too much now who will show me a ton when that part’s back, or vice-versa. A player who looks really good now may have to change the way they play.”
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