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Family pick-nic: NHL Draft was a Norris reunion

Josh Norris (back row, centre) is surrounded by supporters, mostly members of his family, as they pose for a picture after he was selected in the first round, 19th overall, by the San Jose Sharks in Friday’s NHL Entry Draft in Chicago. Norris’s father, Dwayne (kneeling, far left), had a far different draft experience in 1990 when he was a seventh-round pick of the Quebec Nordiques. Dwayne Norris was fishing on the Gander River when that draft was proceeding and he didn’t find out until a day or more later that he had been taken by the Nordiques.
Josh Norris (back row, centre) is surrounded by supporters, mostly members of his family, as they pose for a picture after he was selected in the first round, 19th overall, by the San Jose Sharks in Friday’s NHL Entry Draft in Chicago. Norris’s father, Dwayne (kneeling, far left), had a far different draft experience in 1990 when he was a seventh-round pick of the Quebec Nordiques. Dwayne Norris was fishing on the Gander River when that draft was proceeding and he didn’t find out until a day or more later that he had been taken by the Nordiques.

Back in June of 1990, Dwayne Norris was home in Newfoundland, salmon fishing on the Gander River with his late father, Carl, as the NHL Draft was unfolding across the country at Vancouver’s B.C. Place.

That was the draft when a fellow St. John’s native, John Slaney, went ninth overall to the Washington Capitals, making him, at the time, the highest-drafted Newfoundland hockey player

Norris had just completed his second season at Michigan State University, coming off a 19-goal, 45-point year.

Josh Norris poses between San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer (third from left) and Sharks general manager Doug Wilson after being selected by San Jose with its first pick of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft Friday in Chicago.

A skilled, speedy forward, Norris was also selected in the 1990 draft, in the seventh round, 127th overall, by the Quebec Nordiques. He was the third Spartan drafted that year, behind first-rounders Michael Stewart and Bryan Smolinski.

“This is the difference between then and now,” Norris was saying Sunday morning, two days after his son, Josh, was grabbed 19th overall by the San Jose Sharks in the 2017 Draft. 

“I think I found out two days later – one for sure – that I’d been drafted. A friend of mine called and told me Quebec had taken me.

“Now, they know three seconds later.”

It was a big day for the Norris family at Chicago’s United Centre Friday, and unlike Vancouver 27 years ago, Norris was on hand to watch it unfold.

He wasn’t alone. The whole Norris clan was there, including wife, Traci, and their other two boys, Coale and Dalton. Dwayne’s mother, Joan, and brothers Warren and Ian, who all flew in from St. John’s, and a host of Josh’s friends and former coaches were also in the building.

“We had about 40 or more in the stands,” said Dwayne, after making the five-hour drive from Chicago back home to Oxford, Mich. “The biggest group of anybody else. Not even close.”

With the Sharks plucking him 19th, Josh Norris, a 6-0, 190-pound centre from the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad, jumped up 15 spots from the No. 34 spot NHL Central Scouting had him ranked.

Respected TSN draft analysts Bob McKenzie and Craig Button had Norris pegged at Nos. 23 and 25.

“I’m not sure if Central Scouting had their hand on the pulse at the end,” said Dwayne Norris. “Josh crushed the combine (he finished first in five of the tests, including peak power output on the Wingate bike test, which measures a skater's explosive power in a 30-second sprint, the pro agility test, a 20-yard shuttle run, vertical jump and standing long jump).

“The Blackhawks had said they would take him at No. 26 and, to be honest, that’s where I thought he would be going. San Jose didn’t give any indication they’d be taking him at 19.”

The younger Norris tied for the U18 team scoring lead with 61 points (27G, 34A) in 61 games last season. He helped the Americans to a gold medal at the 2017 world under-18 championship, and has been invited to next month’s summer showcase which will be used to help identify players who will help the United States defend its title at the next world junior championship.

Unlike 1990, today’s draft is very much a production, a big-time television affair that’s one of the NHL’s marquee events.

“Back then, it was something you thought about, but didn’t think about, if you know what I mean,” said Dwayne. “Now, there’s so much hype with social media. Every other day there’s a new mock draft out.

“The buildup and the stress level on the kids is unreal. I mean, we didn’t have agents and personal trainers and all that stuff then.”

The thing that jumps out with Josh Norris, according to scouting reports, is his skating, followed by his hockey IQ and fitness.

Sure sounds a lot like the old man, a Newfoundland Hockey Hall of Famer who owns a world junior gold medal and Olympic silver medal.

The elder Norris played minor hockey up through the Avalon system and Bishops College before heading off to Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask.

From there, Norris attended Michigan State, and appeared in 20 NHL games with Quebec and Anaheim before packing up and heading overseas to Germany, where he enjoyed a long playing and front-office career before returning to Michigan.

It was a different game in the ’90s, when smaller players like the 5-10 Norris – despite their skating ability and skill – weren’t as welcomed on NHL rosters as the larger players.

That’s changed, with the likes of Patrick Kane, Johnny Gaudreau and Tyler Johnson among the NHL’s elite.

The Edmonton Oilers, with their first pick, 22nd overall, took 5-7, 146-pound Kailer Yamamoto from the Western Hockey League.

One can only speculate now if Dwayne Norris – who enjoyed two seasons in the American Hockey League of 73 and 86 points – would be an NHLer if he played in this era.

“Given the style now, I think I would have been given a much better opportunity today,” he said. “But that’s the era I played in, and you can’t draw comparisons. Neither can you draw comparisons with Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky to today’s game.

“But the reality is the game has really changed and the players are better, faster and more skilled. I mean, these kids today are flat-out thoroughbreds.

“Back then, one-third of the league was clutching and grabbing and hacking and holding, not worrying about touching the puck. It’s big business today and people want to see speed and skill and athleticism. It’s why they spend big money to go to a game.”

Dwayne will be in town next month for his hockey camp which he runs with his brothers, starting July 17 at Jack Byrne Arena. He’s back again for a second camp at the Goulds Arena in August.

He had hoped the three boys would be here to work at the schools, but Josh will be preparing for the U.S. junior team’s summer development camp, and Coale, the oldest at 20, will be getting ready for his first year at Ferris State University, where he’s on a hockey scholarship. The youngest, 16-year-old Dalton and the only defenceman in the group, will be playing AAA U16 hockey in Michigan’s Oakland Junior Grizzlies association.

All three, Dwayne said, will be in St. John’s next summer for the Norris hockey school.

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Son of Curling native drafted by Red Wings

Josh Norris wasn’t the only player with ties to Newfoundland who was drafted over the weekend.

Zach Gallant was taken in the third round, 83rd overall, by the Detroit Red Wings. The 6-1, 198-pound centre had 21 goals and 47 points for the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes last season.

Gallant is the son of Curling native Jamie Gal___lant, and has grandparents still living in the Corner Brook area. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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