Jonathon Cheechoo, a Cree player and a highly-touted NHL prospect, is one of the main reasons the Belleville Bulls captured the Ontario Hockey League championship this season.
Should he return to the junior ranks for the 1999-2000 campaign, Cheechoo, a San Jose Sharks' draftee, will again undoubtedly be one of the Bulls' leaders. But chances are he won't be the only Native player on the Belleville roster.
The Bulls also have high hopes for Cody McCormick, the right winger they picked up in the second round, 37th overall, at the OHL Priority Selections Draft held on June 5 in Brampton.
McCormick, a member of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, spent this past year with the Elgin-Middlesex AAA bantams while living at his home in Mt. Brydges, Ont.
McCormick collected 62 points (22 goals, 40 assists) in 58 games this past season and he's now keen on moving from his southwestern Ontario home and cracking the roster of the eastern Ontario-based Bulls.
"I think that Belleville has a great club and I'd love to become part of it," said McCormick, a 6-foot-1, 182-pounder. "I'm preparing now for training camp with hopes of making the roster for the upcoming season."
McCormick's father Chris is also pretty pleased the Bulls drafted his son. The elder McCormick said the Belleville franchise was the first one that approached the family and said they were rather keen on drafting Cody.
The 16-year-old had been pegged as a middle-round draftee by the OHL's Central Scouting service during the midway point of this past season.
But during its season-end evaluations, Central Scouting had bumped McCormick up to its highest ranking (AA), meaning he would probably be chosen in either the first or second round.
"We're pretty pleased Belleville took him," Chris McCormick said. "They have a good reputation. And they have an education person who has been there for something like 13 years. It's also a team known for playing its rookies. And they could be possibly contending again for the Memorial Cup this season."
After winning the OHL crown this season, the Bulls participated in the four-team Memorial Cup tournament in Ottawa in May. Belleville was eliminated following a semi-final loss against the tournament hosts and eventual champs, Ottawa 67's.
The OHL's Priority Selections Draft was primarily for midget-age players born in 1982. All 20 clubs, however, could select a maximum of two underage picks, born in 1983, within the first four rounds. McCormick was an underage selection. Underage picks taken in the Priority Selections Draft are eligible to play for their OHL clubs this coming season.
The Priority Selections Draft lasted 15 rounds. And for the first time the OHL held a bantam draft for those born in '83. This draft was held on June 6 in Brampton. All those selected in the bantam draft are not eligible to suit up for their OHL squads until the 2000-2001 season.
Besides McCormick, several other Native players were drafted over the two days. Perhaps the most noteworthy pick was Brandon Nolan, son of former NHL coach of the year Ted Nolan.
The younger Nolan, who toiled with the St. Catharines bantams this past season, was selected in the first round, 12th overall, in the bantam draft by the Oshawa Generals.
Ted Nolan's nephew, Alan Nolan, had been chosen a day earlier, in the fourth round, 67th overall, by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Priority Selections. Alan Nolan played at the bantam level in Sault Ste. Marie this past year.
Meanwhile, the first Native player picked in the Priority Selections was Colt King. King, who spent the '98-99 season with a Junior B club in St. Thomas, was chosen in the first round, 17th overall, by the Guelph Storm.
Besides Nolan's son, two other Natives taken in the bantam draft were Tony Williams and Nathan Onabigon.
Williams, who starred for the Chatham Maroons Junior B side last season, was the Plymouth Whalers' first-round pick, ninth overall. And Onabigon, who spent the year with theThunder Bay bantams, was a fourth-round draftee, 77th overall, by the Owen Sound Platers.