Even though the 2020-21 Ontario Hockey League season was cancelled due to COVID-19, Soo Greyhounds forward Rory Kerins learned a lot last season.
The 19-year-old Calgary Flames prospect, who played two full seasons with the Greyhounds before the cancellation last season, spent part of last season playing in the American Hockey League with the Stockton Heat, the top farm team of the Flames.
Getting his first taste of pro hockey was a learning experience for the young centre.
“There’s a couple of things but the biggest thing that I learned is being a professional hockey player is a 24-hour job,” Kerins said. “You come to the rink and put in your work, you prepare properly, and you recover properly. That’s something that the pros do that’s not really seen by people watching. That’s something that guys take pride in and it’s what makes you a better hockey player at the end of the day.”
Kerins saw a significant jump in goal production with the Greyhounds between his rookie season and year two.
After scoring nine times as a 16-year-old with the Greyhounds, Kerins broke out in the 2019-20 season, scoring 30 times and finishing the year with 59 points before getting drafted by the Flames in the 2020 NHL draft.
Though he got into just four games with the Heat last season, the opportunity to be around the pro game meant the veteran forward can bring a lot of experience back to junior hockey this season.
“Getting to practice and getting into a couple of games and learning from the coaches and other staff that are there, (I learned) a lot of things,” Kerins said. “The way that those guys move out there, especially during practice, their practices are like a game. You’re moving your feet a lot and making plays quick. Everything is really crisp out there. Just overall, it improved my game in all aspects working with the coaches on skills and with the power skating coach. All around, it was very beneficial for my whole game.”
Kerins’ willingness to keep improving isn’t something that’s lost on Greyhounds general manager Kyle Raftis.
“He’s always had the on-ice skills and worked incredibly hard, but I think it was an eye-opener even at 16 going through that year in terms of eating the right way and what it takes to be in the gym. He did all those things, but you see that next level,” Raftis said. “He came back and was in great shape at 17, scores 30 goals and really led a young team in that way. He had a great camp with Stockton, then he’s practicing every day and seeing what those guys do and it elevates his level again. When you talk to him, he’s someone who is never satisfied with where he’s at. He’s really hungry and wants to prove where he belongs.”
The cancellation of the 2020-21 OHL season wasn’t an easy one for Kerins and the rest of his Greyhounds teammates.
The club was set to bid on hosting the 2021 Memorial Cup and had high expectations heading into the season.
“It was definitely really hard on me,” Kerins said. “We had a good team lined up. It was tough overall, but it’s in the past now for me. I’m really thankful for all of the opportunities that I’ve got in the past year to learn and grow my game as a hockey player and a person.”
With the focus shifting to the new season, Kerins has high hopes this season.
“I think we have a really sneaky team that could do some damage,” Kerins said.
“With every team, there are a lot of unknowns,” Kerins also said. “What’s clear with our team is we’re going to have a lot of guys returning even though we missed the full year. We’re going to have a lot of good players returning. We’re going to have a good overage group and the leadership group is going to be great as well. We’re going to be a top team in the league this year.”