Rookie forward adjusting to junior
Sam Tonelli has dealt with more than his share of adjustments in his first season of junior hockey.
The 16-year-old centre for the Thorold Blackhawks is not only dealing with acclimating himself to a higher level, but he’s doing so after being idled last season due to the COVID pandemic.
“I think it’s gone pretty well,” the Port Colborne High School student said. “I started off a little bit slow, just getting used to it. It’s different — not a totally different game — but it’s different. The speed, the size and all that, but I think I’ve adapted well.”
Tonelli had a goal and an assist as the Blackhawks dropped a 4-3 decision to the Welland Junior Canadians in Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, Golden Horseshoe Conference action Monday night at Thorold Arena.
Tonelli, who has five goals and five assists in his first 17 games, doesn’t feel the lack of game action last year has factored too heavily into the equation.
“I didn’t find that part of it too bad,” he said. “It’s more just getting back into condition, into game shape, but other than that, I don’t think the year off was too big of a disadvantage.”
Thorold coach Scott Barnes has been happy with Tonelli’s development.
“He’s gotten a lot of ice time so he’s developing pretty nicely for us,” Barnes said. “He’s got a lot of chances. We’ve played him. He was a little bit snake-bitten earlier on in the season. He’s had some really good opportunities and he’s starting to capitalize now.”
Barnes likes Tonelli’s skill set.
“He’s a really intelligent hockey player. He’s got good hands and a good shot. I think he’s gonna be a guy who could put up points and he’s smart defensively too so he’s a good two-way guy.”
Barnes has used Tonelli with a variety of wingers due to injuries and suspensions trying to find a unit that will click.
“When I take a 16-year-old, I take him to play,” Barnes said. “I try to put them in positions to be successful and play in a top-six scoring role.
“I think I let the young guys get ice time and give them a little bit of a leash to make mistakes and learn from them.”
Tonelli is enjoying the overall experience of junior.
“Playing with better players makes you better and you make them better, so I think moving up to junior has made me better,” he said.
Tonelli was selected in the 14th round of the 2021 Ontario Hockey League draft by the London Knights and attended OHL camp in September.
“I was in awe watching all the top players on London going full speed,” he said. “It was eye opening. I can see where I need to be and see how much I need to work to get there.
“It was a good experience for me.”
The loss dropped Thorold’s record to 6-10-1.
“It would be real nice to see what our actual team looks like,” Barnes said. “It’s been a season with guys coming in, guys going out. It would be nice to see who we are as a real team.”
The Hawks were without Cooper Lobsinger and Robert Polillo, both suspended, while Harrison Goan, Declan Fogarty and Nathaniel Krbavac were all injured.
“I’m not using as an excuse or anything with our season because a lot of other teams are dealing with the same exact stuff,” Barnes said.
Hawk talk: The Hamilton Kilty B’s defeated the Pelham Panthers 6-2 in the other game Monday.
Junior Canadians 4 Blackhawks 3
Welland forward Nathan Phillips with three goals, including the winner.
For the Thorold Blackhawks: Sam Tonelli (5); Liam Loftus (5); Dalton Wright (1).
For the Welland Junior Canadians: Phillips 3 (5, 6, 7); Taylor Ewing (1).
Game stats: Shots on goal: By Thorold on (31), Welland on Noah Fortuna (43), Thorold on Tucker Adams (28); Power plays: Thorold 0-for-3, Welland 2-for-4; Penalty minutes: Thorold 9, Welland 12.
Up next: The Blackhawks are at Hamilton Saturday. The Junior Canadians visit Fort Erie Saturday.
Dear reader. If you liked this story or one of the 3,700 other stories found on our website, please consider hitting the Support Us button on the right-hand side of our home page and making a PayPal contribution to our website. Your support would be much appreciated. If you are a business owner, please consider advertising on our site. Our rates are reasonable and we provide plenty of exposure for your business. Contact email@example.com for more information.