It’s a dream played over and over in the minds of any boy or girl who’s ever picked up a hockey stick and batted a ball or puck around the driveway, the
backyard pond or the local rink: playing in the championship game, scoring the overtime winner, throwing your arms in the air and being mobbed by
On May 31, 2015, that was Anthony Cirelli’s reality.
Then a rookie, the Oshawa Generals forward put home a rebound from the doorstep 1:28 into overtime to defeat the Kelowna Rockets for the 2015 Memorial Cup.
“It’s hard to remember what I was feeling,” says Cirelli. “It was just so much emotion. I was so happy for everyone. We were the champions. Getting that
goal is something I’m never going to forget for the rest of my life.”
That performance – Cirelli also scored his team’s only goal in regulation – did more than turn him into an unlikely hero. It turned some new heads.
“To be a rookie and play in the situations he played in at the most important tournament of the year to help his team win a championship, that to me speaks
of elite players,” says Ryan Jankowski, director of player personnel for Hockey Canada.
A year later Cirelli, now the Generals’ captain, has earned an invitation to Canada’s National Junior Team Sport Chek Summer Development Camp. It’s his
first time at a national team camp.
It’s unchartered ground for a player who’s used to flying under the radar.
Cirelli played AA hockey until Minor Midget, his OHL draft year. He went unselected.
The next season he played Midget AAA for the Mississauga Reps. Again, he went undrafted.
“It was pretty deflating not being drafted two years in a row,” he says. “I got down on myself a little bit, but I knew there were still other routes to
get to where I wanted to be.”
He signed a contract with the Mississauga Chargers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League for the 2014-15 season; the team’s head coach was also Oshawa’s head
scout. Cirelli attended Generals rookie camp and signed as a free agent late in the summer of 2014.
“I should have moved up earlier [from playing AA] to get a little bit more exposure before my OHL draft year,” says Cirelli. “I wasn’t the biggest guy out
there, I wasn’t the most skilled, but I for sure worked the hardest. It didn’t work out for me those two years, but I continued doing what I was doing and
lucky for me it got me to where I am right now.”
Four weeks after his Memorial Cup heroics Cirelli was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third round of the NHL Entry Draft, and in January 2016 he
was named captain of the Generals; he embraces the mentorship role that comes with being a leader.
The past 12 months have propelled Cirelli to where he always hoped he would be, and where deep in his heart he knew he belonged.
“I got a whole lot more confident in myself and knew what I was doing was the right thing,” he says. “After coming off a pretty good season with the
Generals I was named captain. I thought I led the team pretty well and we made the playoffs. A lot of things have been going right for me right now.”
He relishes the chance to finally showcase his game for consideration on a national team. For his part, he’s never felt overlooked; “I only kind of
sprouted my first year with the Generals.”
Jankowski likes that Cirelli plays a responsible game but also brings offensive talent to the table. This camp allows him and his scouts to take a closer
look at a player they’ve so far only seen from the stands.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to see where he stacks up here in the summer, where his strengths lie with respect to the group and give him a taste of
what Hockey Canada is all about,” says Jankowksi. “Then we can see where it goes to start the year for him to maybe play for us in the [World Juniors].”
The two sides are on the same page.
“I want to go out there,” says Cirelli, “and show the coaching staff I can play there and what my game is and my work ethic – just show them the kind of
player I am. Hopefully I can show that I’m a piece to the puzzle in creating the team.”
And while it may be easy to label him the camp underdog, those who do, do so at their own risk.
“I’ve been kind of an underdog my entire life, so I’m used to it, “says Cirelli. “There are a lot of top-end guys at the camp, but I’ve been in this
position before so it’s nothing that I’m too worried about. I’m just going to go there and show them what I can do.”