In the tool chest of an elite player, hockey sense is unarguably one of the most important utensils to possess.
But is it innate or acquired? Tangible? Largesse? Practiced?
Devin Shore believes it’s all of it and he’s appreciative of the congenital gift, but has also worked hard to improve it in his skill-set every time he’s
on the ice.
“The best way to work on hockey sense is through your mental toughness and develop confidence,” says Shore, a second-round pick of the Dallas Stars at the
2012 NHL Entry Draft, taken 61st overall.
“When you have confidence to play by reacting, you have the ability to see more plays. And the best way to work on it is to remain confident in your
abilities. But I do believe hockey sense is a gift.”
However it arrived in Shore’s game, the future NHLer has used it to his advantage as his career has progressed from minor hockey to junior and now as a
professional in the American Hockey League.
Along the way his high skill and abilities have always been on full display, but perhaps the most defining of those came as a participant in the 2011 World
Junior A Challenge in Langley, B.C.
As a member of Canada East, one of two Canadian entries in the annual international tournament, Shore led his team to the gold medal game, although the
easterners settled for silver.
Always considered a talented player at any level of his hockey progression, it was on this particular stage that he elevated his game to new heights and
with it his draft status the following summer.
“He’s a special hockey player in terms of hockey sense,” says Curtis Hodgins, who coached Shore and Canada East at the 2011 World Junior A Challenge, where
they lost 4-2 to Canada West in the final. “He’s truly ahead of a lot of players. He has top-end hockey sense and that’s what makes him unique. He’s one of
the smartest players I’ve ever coached, for sure.”
The coach’s assessment didn’t resonate solely from the one-week World Junior A Challenge, but also from coaching Shore that season with the Whitby Fury of
the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL).
For Shore, who had already committed to play NCAA hockey with the University of Maine the following season, the World Junior A Challenge helped grow his
confidence and ultimately springboard his inclusion on to scouting lists for the NHL draft.
Shore’s tournament started with an impressive round-robin and built to a crescendo through the medal round. The highlight was a semifinal win for Canada
East against the United States, stopping the Americans’ streak of three-consecutive gold medals.
“The U.S. is the bar-setter for the tournament and any time you can beat them, it’s a huge win,” says the now six-foot-one, 205-pound centre.
To that point, the Americans had never lost in the tournament to Canada East, but Shore helped rewrite that item of history with a two-goal performance and
a trip to the gold medal game.
It was a contest that Shore dominated – blocking shots, skating, passing and scoring the first and last goals in a 4-2 win.
“He was simply outstanding,” says Hodgins, now the head coach of the men’s hockey team at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa. “He
took the team on his shoulders. That was his coming of age moment.”
And while Canada East lost a heartbreaker to its Canadian counterparts for the gold, the impression Shore made rippled throughout the tournament,
especially among the NHL scouting fraternity in attendance. This included popping onto Craig’s List, an annual comprehensive scroll of the top players
available for the upcoming entry draft assembled by former NHL general manager and scout and now TSN director of scouting, Craig Button.
“Everyone from the NHL that wanted to talk to me wanted to talk about Devin Shore.”
Now 21, Shore finished the tournament with a co-leading six points, including two goals in four games and was named the tournament’s most valuable player,
becoming the first Canada East player to earn that honour.
“To this day it’s still one of my fondest memories playing hockey,” he says. “It was a pretty special night for me. Only now four years later can I look
back and say it was a turning point and an important night in my career. It was one of the best games I’ve ever played.”
To truly understand the significance of the World Junior A Challenge to Shore’s career to date, you need to know how much he wanted to earn a spot on
Canada East to be able to participate in the event.
A year earlier, at 16, he watched the final of the 2010 tournament on television and set a goal of getting there the following year. He joined the OJHL’s
Fury near his hometown of Ajax, Ont., the next season and started the mission. In what would be his only season of Junior A hockey, he paced Whitby with 29
goals and 58 points in only 41 games.
“I remember watching that gold medal game. It was a huge personal goal to make Canada East. I knew I was a second-tier prospect, so I knew it would be my
best chance to wear a Hockey Canada jersey. And when I threw on that jersey, it didn’t matter what level I was at, I was representing my country. It was a
pretty special moment.”
Shore admits his play at the World Junior A Challenge and the experience of elite international competition further developed his game, ultimately
preparing him for three productive years at Maine and now with the AHL’s Texas Stars, Dallas’ top minor league affiliate.
With Texas he’s playing heavy minutes and is better than a point-a-game player, posting 15 goals and 26 points in 22 games. That production, and his
abilities, have also already earned a three-game stint with this season with the red-hot Stars.
“It’s easy to say now, but it was really clear that he was going to play in the NHL someday,” says Hodgins. “He just had that kind of makeup. And what a
lot of people don’t know about Devin is what kind of kid he is. He’s truly outstanding.”
This year marks the 10th edition of the World Junior A Challenge – executed as part of a partnership between Hockey Canada and the Canadian Junior Hockey
And with Cobourg and Whitby co-hosting the event, two places Shore is extremely familiar with and just down the road from hockey crazy Toronto, the 2015
tournament should again produce some great memories and competition in the six-team field, including both Canadian teams along with the powerful Americans,
Czechs, Swiss and Russians.
“They’ll show great support and both have great facilities,” says Shore. “It will be a great event.”
He should know. After all, he’s got a great sense for the game.