Via Iain Colpitts, Mississauga News
The internet couldn’t have crashed at a worse time for James Hardie and his family on Saturday, April 7.
While 20 or so family members gathered in the Hardie home to watch the Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection Draft online, the internet cut out right when the Innisfil native was selected eighth overall by the Mississauga Steelheads.
“The first time I found out I was drafted was when I got the phone call (from Steelheads assistant general manager Michael Doyle). It was an exciting time,” said Hardie, who scored more than a goal a game with the Barrie Jr. Colts this season. “Since I got the phone call, it was OK. It made all the nerves go away.”
Steelheads coach and general manager James Richmond feels he picked up a high-end scorer and is looking forward to seeing him grow in Mississauga.
“Our scouts have done an unbelievable job, I can’t even count how many games they’ve seen,” Richmond said.
“They recognized him early in the season, followed his progression. We watched him grow as a player all year and his coaches love him.”
While he’ll go through a learning curve as a rookie in the OHL, Hardie comes along at a time when the Steelheads will be losing a lot of their best scorers.
Trent Fox and Mathieu Foget just finished their overage season, Michael McLeod and Nic Hague will most likely be moving on to the American Hockey League and Owen Tippett’s return is questionable as he could land a spot with the Florida Panthers since he played seven games with them to start out the 2017-18 season.
Hardie still has a lot to learn about the Steelheads organization, but the coaching staff loves him and the feeling seems mutual.
“This is a great place, this room is beautiful,” Hardie said. “There’s a great staff and I’m really excited to be here. It’s a dream come true.”
Also on Saturday, Richmond felt he got away with a steal in the second round when Mississauga native William Portokalis was still available with the 39th overall selection.
He has captained the Don Mills Flyers for the past two seasons and recorded 81 points, including 34 goals, in 67 games this year. However, he prides himself more on his two-way style of play and the intangibles he brings to the team.
“I used to be more offensive minded, but with a new coach coming in, Steve Mercer, he’s really helped me be more of a 200-foot player and play D more,” said Portokalis, who led the Flyers to a spot in the OHL Cup. “It’s really helped me become a better player.”
Portokalis lives near Square One and has enjoyed watching many OHL games at the Hershey Centre growing up.
He cites Tippett as his favourite player to watch.