Following in the footsteps of retired professionals Ken Houston (Dresden), Dave Gagner (Chatham), Jeff Jackson (Dresden), Todd Warriner (Blenheim) and current NHLers Ryan Jones (Chatham) and TJ Brodie (Dresden), Thamesville’s Dane Fox is seeking out a similar future in hockey that similarly began in the small town rinks scattered throughout the Municipality of Chatham-Kent. Playing in his overage season, Fox has found a comfort zone in Erie after being part of a major trade (on January 5th, 2012) that witnessed Greg McKegg, Brett Cook and Tyson Teichmann going to the London Knights in exchange for Dane Fox, Troy Donnay and a pair of second round picks. After playing parts of three seasons with the powerhouse Knights, Fox joined a young and inexperienced Otters team where he soon discovered that the new opportunity would benefit his hockey career.
Playing big minutes in all situations with Erie, scouts began to take notice of his game that features both grit and skill. After the trade, Fox finished the 2012-13 season strong producing nearly a point-per-game pace (28GP-10G-12A-22P) with his new squad which eventually earned him an invite to the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game as an injury replacement. Despite being ranked as high as 48th by NHL Central Scouting, Dane Fox was passed over in his draft year and, again, in his second time through the entry draft after a season of battling injuries.
The ability to persevere through challenging times has helped Fox appreciate the opportunities he has been presented with and recognize the intricacies of the game that it takes to be successful And, successful is likely an understatement for the fifth year OHLer considering Fox is ripping the OHL up in his final season. The Erie Otters have matured into a powerhouse team chalked full of talent from top to bottom. With the turn of the calendar month to December, the Otters’ currently ice two of the OHL’s premiere goaltenders. Otters netminders have taken home back to back OHL Goaltender of the Month honours after Blue Jackets prospect Oscar Dansk had an outstanding October and Devin Williams (eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft) mirrored his accomplishments in November. The accolades didn`t end there as Dane Fox`s dominating November earned him OHL Player of the Month recognition following in the footsteps of Connor McDavid, who just happened to receive the honours in October.
The Erie Otters have been dominating and sit atop the entire Canadian Hockey League as the number one ranked franchise with an impressive 26-4-1-0 record. Shift after shift, Otters’ coach Kris Knoblauch has the luxury of sending out dynamic offensive players such as Connor Brown (current OHL scoring leader and Maple Leafs prospect), André Burakovsky (Washington Capitals prospect), Dylan Strome (2013 2nd overall selection), recently acquired Brendan Gaunce (Vancouver Canucks prospect), Adam Pelech (New York Islanders prospect), the exceptional Connor McDavid (projected top selection for 2015 NHL Draft) and, of course, Dane Fox – the team’s gritty leader who has proven he will do anything to win. There is no shortage of firepower in Erie.
Fox`s recent personal accomplishments (OHL Player of the Week and OHL Player of the Month) are even more inspiring after both recognitions came during the week that Dane lost his grandfather forcing him to play with a heavy heart. Heading into week 14, Fox enjoys the OHL’s longest goal streak tallying 13 goals in seven games straight and his 36 goals bests the next player (Sudbury`s Nathan Pancel) by seven. The former product of the Chatham-Kent Cyclones program has racked up 20 multipoint games including a career high 5-point game. Dane has posted a 4-point game four times, a trio of 3-point contests, a dozen 2-point showings and has been held off the scoresheet just four times in 31 games this season. For the first time in his OHL career, Fox is producing at over a point-per-game pace…actually, well over that mark sitting just shy of two points-per-game (1.97). Besides leading the league in goals, number 74 of Erie sits first in game winning goals (6), powerplay goals (T-1st, 13), insurance goals (7) , shorthanded assists (3) and he has scored a league high seven first goals of the game showing how much of an impact player he has been.
After participating in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament with the St. Louis Blues it is clear that NHL teams are interested in his skills and as Fox continues on in his last major junior season, he should have plenty of suitors looking to sign him as an NHL free agent especially if he can help propel his Erie Otters to a Memorial Cup appearance by winning the OHL Championship.
Youngblood Hockey’s Brendan Ross sat down with Dane Fox in a candid interview with the small town hockey celebrity.
YOUNGBLOOD HOCKEY: To help answer a lifelong hockey debate, when taping your stick, do you tape heel to toe or toe to heel?
DANE FOX: Heel to toe
YH: What NHL Team is your favourite?
DF: Since I was little I cheered for Toronto Maple Leafs.
YH: Who is your favourite NHL player (past or present)?
DF: David Bolland
YH: You attended the Traverse City Prospect Tournament representing the St. Louis Blues, what did you take away from that experience?
DF: I learned what it takes to play at the next level – it is one step faster and everyone is one step ahead. I also learned how important it is to take care of your body off of the ice.
YH: Both you and your Erie Otters are red hot this season, what can you contribute your personal success to? Any changes you made to your game?
DF: Paying attention to detail in practice and doing the little things that assistant coach Vince Laise has told me has helped me out a tremendous amount. Teaching little tricks like stopping in front of the net after you shoot, following your own rebound, shooting to score, pulling the puck in tight to your body and using defensemen as a screen.
YH: Is there an NHL player you say you model your game after?
DF: I try to play like Steve Ott or David Bolland, especially Bolland because he can play different roles as either a shutdown player or top-line scorer, accepting whatever role he’s called upon to play.
YH: You’ve played in the Western Conference your entire OHL career, is there one team that you always find it easy to get pumped up to play?
DF: That’s a no brainer…definitely the London Knights [Dane’s former team]
YH: You’ve played against a lot of OHL players, can you name one player you always found it difficult to play against?
DF: Tommy Hughes (former London Knight). He was one of the best guys I’ve played with and I really noticed how good he was when I played against him as he’s a really good shutdown defenseman and that’s why the [New York] Rangers signed him.
YH: Similarily, who is the most skilled player you’ve played with?
DF: I would say it is a tie between Connor McDavid and [former London Knight] Nazem Kadri. Very similar skilled players but I would say that McDavid is faster but both are very talented. They are neck and neck for me.
YH: Connor McDavid – tell me what makes him so exceptional?
DF: I would say that his love for the game sets him above the rest. He just loves playing and his speed and work ethic and passion for the game are great qualities.
YH: As you play in your final OHL season, are there any people that you want to give a shout out to that helped you get to where you are today?
DF: First and foremost, my family who have supported me through everything in my five years of junior hockey. Coaches in the past like Mark and Dale Hunter helped me out a lot…Jacques Beaulieu, and my current coaches. Last but not least, Sherry Bassin [Erie Otters GM]. He’s basically got me to where I am now, put his faith in me by trading for me in the Greg McKegg trade. I can’t even put into words how much Sherry has done for me and how appreciative I am of him sticking with me.
YH: Last question, who’s going to win the OHL scoring title, Connor Brown or yourself?
DF: [Chuckles] Well we’re roommates on the road in the hotel rooms so we came to an agreement that we would try to tie and then flip a coin to see who gets bragging rights. So that is what we are going to do [HaHa]
Youngblood Hockey is a prospect based newsletter composed by Brendan Ross and published each month at The Scouting Bureau. Ross is the acting Manager of Dobber Prospects, a credentialed CHL Journalist and Alliance scout for TheScout.ca.