Experts say one should find the positives in a negative situation.
Simon Motew (‘03/Highland Park, Ill.) appears to have found a way to do that.
A legit candidate for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, ranked among the top 100 in at least one pundit’s list, Motew played last season with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. With the OHL still not up and running, Motew decided to play locally and has suited up for the Cougars since the start of December when the OHL pushed its season start until sometime this year.
Motew played most of his youth hockey with the Chicago Mission AAA squad and faced a big decision at the start of the 2019 season when he first suited up for the Rangers. That is a non-traditional route for many Americans as it makes them ineligible to play NCAA hockey, but Motew felt it was the way to go.
“I felt that for my development and for me to achieve my dream of getting drafted and playing in the NHL, the OHL was the best route,” said Motew in an email interview. “I know it’s uncommon for most Americans but being able to play 68 games a year plus playoffs as well as being on the ice every day competing with players who have the same dream as me, sounded like an amazing experience.”
There was a bit of a culture shock at first for the Windy City area D-man, who was accustomed to playing in front of small crowds while playing with the Mission, as the OHL draws massive crowds and Kitchener is a hockey hotbed.
“It was definitely a shock and it played into my decision to forgo college,” said Motew. “I knew that if I was going to pass up an NCAA scholarship, I wanted to have an amazing experience. When it comes to Kitchener, they are very passionate about their hockey. Playing in the ‘Aud’ (Kitchener Memorial Auditorium) in front of 7-8,000 fans a night is amazing. In AAA you typically just have your parents and family come watch you play.”
Like so many others, the season ended suddenly and disappointingly for Motew with the plug pulled right in the heart of the stretch drive as his team was battling down the stretch for the Division lead with the rival London Knights.
“London had a great team, and it was a battle every time we played them,” recalled Motew. “Last year, we really thought we could win a championship, so it was really tough on the organization when the season got cancelled. For our first-year players, like myself, we never got the chance to play in an OHL playoff game which was disappointing. But I really felt horrible for our over-agers (Major Junior teams allow a certain number of 21-year-olds, who we knew wouldn’t get another opportunity, as well as our players who were moving on to the AHL. It was really tough on everyone.”
The off-season became torturous as the OHL scheduled, pushed, and rescheduled opening dates for this season, due to strict COVID regulations in Ontario. The OHL still does not have a set start date for what would be a partial 2021 season.
“It was tough having the dates continually pushed back,” said Motew. “But I tried not to focus on that too much. If I found myself thinking about it, I would try to refocus on what was in my control like making sure I was optimizing my training and development. This summer I focused a lot of my time on the defensive side of the game. On a weekly basis, I was working with a figure skating coach to become a more controlled/balanced skater, a speed skating coach to focus on my straight-line speed, as well as the Chicago Blackhawks Skills Coach, Brian Keane.
“I have really done everything in my power to take advantage of these last nine months or so.”
When the OHL postponed its start again at the beginning of December, Motew decided he needed to a little more than practice.
“I knew I wanted to start playing games. Having the ability to stay in Chicago and continue working with my trainers while playing games was really exciting to me. Also, my brother, Asher, is on the Cougars so having the opportunity to play with him was hard to pass up.”
Simon gives the Cougars, a team known for its offensive power, a chance to be a more balanced team with some strength in its own end, but Motew is clearly having fun putting the puck in the net as well, collecting 43 points through just 17 games with the club. His presence, along with some of the best offensive players in the league, could make the team a huge threat when playoffs roll around.
“We can put the puck in the back of the net, while also shutting our opponents down offensively,” said Motew. “Our power play has been great lately and has been generating a lot of chances. Our goal is to win every night and I think everyone on the team understands their role and how they need to play to win.”
He may be playing in mostly empty rinks right now, but Motew has plenty of eyes on him as NHL scouts put their draft lists together for the summer draft. Motew tries not to put too much pressure on himself about that though.
“I try my best not to think about it,” said Motew. “Like every player, my dream is to be drafted in the NHL, but I really try to have a day-to-day mindset. I do everything I can to push myself and get better on a day-to-day basis and when the NHL Draft does come, I hope to hear my name called.”