Learning the ropes
IceDogs rookie defenceman Billy Constantinou. PHOTO BY: BILL POTRECZ
Billy Constantinou is well aware his playing time comes down to numbers, at least for the time being.
The 16-year-old rookie is one of eight defencemen being carried by the Niagara IceDogs. Since the club generally dresses six rearguards for a game, two defenceman normally find themselves sitting in the stands.
Constantinou has sat more than he has played so far, dressing for five of Niagara’s first 14 games.
“It’s pretty difficult but it’s something you have to work through and stay positive,” said Constantinou, a native of Scarborough. “A lot of players go through it when they are rookies. It’s something you have to go through to play in this league. It’s nothing bad, it’s just because there are so many guys.
“You just have to not get down on yourself and push through it because it happens to everyone.”
That’s pretty much the message the coaching staff have been preaching to Constantinou, a second-round selection in the 2017 Ontario Hockey League draft.
“He’s been a star his whole life and now he comes here and he’s in and out of the lineup and in limited minutes in certain situations,” IceDogs head coach Billy Burke said. “It’s a huge adjustment for him.”
Burke said the IceDogs have been impressed with Constantinou’s work ethic and attitude and feel he’s on the road to becoming a solid OHL player.
“For Billy, he’s one of those guys who has to work in practice and when he does get in, continue to work on his game,” Burke said. “I’ve already seen it in him. He’s trying to adjust and it’s already working. He hasn’t played a ton, but when he’s in, we all leave the game thinking this kid is going to be a really good player in this league.”
Burke isn’t expecting miracles overnight.
“It’s going to take some time. As he gets more confidence and he gets a littler quicker, things will slow down for him and he’ll really be able to excel.”
Constantinou feels whatever doesn’t kill him can only make him stronger.
“It’s something you have to deal with and go through. There’s nothing wrong with adversity. It’s better to go through things so you know how to deal with it down the road. It’s a good learning curve for me.”
Even though his playing time has been limited, Constantinou feels he is making progress.
“Every game I play I feel I get more confident and feel better than the game before that,” he said. “There is a big age difference. You have to adjust to it but I find every game I play I’ve adjusted to it more.”
As well as carrying two extra defencemen, the IceDogs have 14 forwards on their roster, two more than they normally dress. They are also carrying three goaltenders.
When everyone is healthy, that means Burke and his staff have some tough decisions to make when filling out the game sheet.
“It’s having the depth in case,” Burke said. “You can get a suspension and an injury in a game just like that. It seems likes it’s a big problem when they’re all healthy but if you look up front, (Johnny) Corniel is hurt and (Philip) Tomasino is gone (World U17 championships) so we’re down to no extra forwards.”
Burke said the staff also tries to balance developing players and winning.
“It’s definitely something we are always talking about. We don’t want to have one guy sitting for stretches and becoming disengaged. There is a tightrope on how to handle it and it’s certainly challenging, especially when the guys are so close like they are now.”
To make sure players don’t get lost in the shuffle, Burke said it’s vital the lines of communication remain open.
“We try to talk to the guys when they’re scratched,” he said. “We try be honest with them. Sometimes it’s not what they want to hear, but you owe it to them to give it to them straight. You have to tell them to make sure to keep working and learn from other guys. It comes down to staying positive and not getting down on yourself.”
The IceDogs travel to Sudbury Friday and Sault Ste. Marie Saturday.
Ice cubes: Niagara general manager Joey Burke celebrated birthday No. 29 Tuesday . . . The IceDogs went axe throwing as a team building exercise instead of hitting the ice Tuesday.