Mason building his future
Mason Howard would love nothing more than to follow in the footsteps of Vince Dunn.
Like Dunn, Howard is a defenceman who was drafted by the Niagara IceDogs, but wasn’t quite ready to make the jump from minor midget to the Ontario Hockey League.
Dunn spent a year with the Thorold Blackhawks before seamlessly transitioning to the OHL as a 17-year-old and is now in his rookie season with the St. Louis Blues.
Howard finds himself in the same position as Dunn, honing his craft as a 16-year-old with the Blackhawks with an eye on moving up to the IceDogs next season.
“I just want to develop and make sure I get there next year and keep going after that,” Howard said.
Dunn had a period of mental adjustment and Howard admits to the same.
“It’s hard to have a good attitude but you have to make sure you have it so you can keep growing as a hockey player.”
The IceDogs approached Thorold coach Scott Barnes about Howard playing for the Hawks.
“He had a good training camp. They weren’t going to have a spot for him but they wanted to keep him close for potential for next year,” Barnes said.
Barnes feels it’s vital to put Howard in positions to grow and succeed.
“I think as a 16-year-old it’s finding a spot where you’re going to develop and hopefully have coaches who are going to help him get to the next level,” he said. “It’s all about a fit and the best situation for a 16-year-old.”
Howard is off to a strong start with five goals and 19 points through his first 29 games.
“He’s been one of our top D right from the get go,” Barnes said. “He was one of four defencemen from the start of the season and he played a big role. Early on, he was really logging a lot of minutes — probably too much for a young guy — but it probably helped him adapt to the league a lot quicker.”
Howard, who was Niagara’s 10th round selection in the 2016 draft, is settling in at school at Denis Morris and learning to live away from home for the first time.
He’s also getting used to more hockey than he’s ever played.
“Every day we’re on the ice other than Tuesday and in the gym almost every day so I just have to take care of my body and get a good rest and get ready for the next day,” he said.
He’s also learned he can’t take any nights off playing in a league with players who are older and just as big, if not bigger.
“Definitely my compete level is higher knowing I have to play well against the older, tougher, bigger guys,” he said. “It’s definitely difficult going from playing guys my own age to former OHLers out there. I always have to have my head on a swivel and I have to get my strength up.
“It’s really good. It helps me get better so I can play at a higher level.”
Barnes has been pushing Howard to be the best he can be, night in and night out.
“I was hard on him in practice last night,” Barnes said. “I don’t want him to take his foot off the pedal and get comfortable. I want him to keep pushing and hopefully attain his goal for next year. Our job as a coaching staff is to push him even when he’s maybe tired or fatigued.
“He was captain of his minor midget team so he already has leadership qualities and he knows what it takes to get there.”
The Blackhawks, coming off a tough loss in Pelham Sunday that saw them blow a 5-1 lead, topped the Fort Erie Meteors 6-3 Thursday at Thorold to finally get to the .500 mark at 12-12-3-3.
Spencer Blackwell, Griffen Fox, Bailey Stumpo, Matt Maidens, Brendan Charlton and Daniel Lowe scored for Thorold.
Doyle Groulx, Drew Passero and Marco Lariccia replied for the Meteors.
The Hawks are at St. Catharines Friday at 7 p.m.