Brandon Pye's heart was set on being in Halifax this fall. After being selected 179th overall by the Mooseheads in the 2011 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft, the 17-year-old felt he was ready to make the jump from major midget to major junior.
"I didn't want to say that I was going to play for the Mooesheads, but that's where my heart was. I really wanted that opportunity this year," says Pye.
Unfortunately, the rookie winger from Southlands was part of one of the last group of players cut from camp.
"Halfway through the camp, they picked up two more 19-year-olds. That made it harder for me," says Pye who was part of Team Atlantic in last year's under-17 world championships.
After being cut by the Mooseheads, Pye had the option to join the Truro Bearcats of the Maritime junior A circuit (he was taken 41st overall in the 2011 MJAHL draft), or return home and play for the Darren Halloran-coached St. John's Maple Leafs of the Newfoundland major midget league.
The latter provided the chance for Pye to graduate from O'Donel high school with honours and renew his hockey relationship with Halloran.
"I knew coming back here wouldn't affect my play in any way," Pye insists. "I knew (Halloran) would push me to my limits and try to make me as good as I can be and do everything to get me on to the Mooseheads next year."
Halloran, who feels fortunate to have the young star on his squad, feels coming home was the best option for Pye.
"I don't think he'd log the ice time (in Truro) he's logging here," says Halloran. "The kid is playing 25 to 30 minutes a game for me. How can you not benefit playing that many minutes," asks Halloran.
"He's playing in every situation and he's dominating in every situation. You can see every time he steps on the ice that his confidence is getting better and better.
"I think it would be more beneficial for him to walk into a major junior camp with the confidence he has gained as opposed to playing a mediocre year in Junior A."
Pye has made the best of his ice-time thus far. Fifteen games into the season, he's wracked up a league-leading 40 points, just four points shy of his career high set over 24 games with a dominant St. John's Privateers crew last season.
"Last year, I was sort of in this role playing on the power play with Marcus Power and Danny Wicks," says Pye who has taken on the role of go-to-guy for Halloran.
"Being the main guy is good, but I can't put too much pressure on myself, there's a lot of capable guys on our team."
Halloran says Pye still plays the same game he brought to the ice as a five-foot-four, 125-pound 15-year-old Tri Pen rookie. Now standing six-feet on skates and tipping the scales at 180 and counting - he's put on five pounds already this season - Pye's gaining even more confidence in his game.
"When I hit people or people hit me, I won't get knocked down. I have confidence that if I'm driving wide with the puck, I can get past the defence."
Halloran would like to see Pye finish his checks more consistently.
"Instead of really finishing his checks, he kind of lays back a bit because he doesn't want to be the guy to put somebody out. When he hits people, he has the ability to hurt them.
"He's a big strong boy and he over-skates and over-powers every one out there. He's a big boy in a small boy's league right now."
Pye says he is trying to improve his game from top to bottom, but skating ranks high on his list of areas to work on.
"I'm already a good skater, but I want to improve on that even more so when I go up to Halifax I'll be a standout. I want people to say 'he's a really good skater.'"
Outside of minor things, Halloran doesn't think there's much left to improve on and says Pye is ready to play in the Q.
"He skates like a pro, shoots like a pro. He's got it all for what they'll be looking for at the next level."
The Maple Leafs are at home this weekend for a three-game set against Tri Pen that started Friday at Capital Hyundai Arena in St. John's. The other games are 8:30 p.m. today and 10 a.m. Sunday.
In other NLMMHL action this weekend, the Privateers are the facing the Western Kings in three games at Goulds Arena. They opened Friday night and continue today at 8:30 p.m.and Sunday morning at 10 o'clock.