Chance to shine on Memorial Cup’s big stage is what Oakville’s Misa relishes

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Published May 24, 2024 at 5:35 pm

Ontario, Oakville, Saginaw, OHL, CHL, Memorial Cup, NHL draft, prospect
Oakville's Michael Misa has a chance of becoming the top pick in the 2025 NHL Draft, but first he'll look to lead the host Saginaw Spirit to a Memorial Cup title. NATALIE SHAVER/OHL IMAGES

When the puck drops Friday night (May 24) at the 2024 Memorial Cup in Saginaw, Michigan, all eyes will be on Spirit second-year centre and Oakville native Michael Misa.

The eighth player in CHL history to be granted exceptional status (underage entry into league), Misa took the league by storm last year winning the OHL Rookie of the Year after recording 22 goals and 56 points in just 45 games.

The highly skilled 17-year-old has been mentioned as a potential first overall pick in the 2025 NHL Entry Draft and is ranked among the top five prospects overall on most draft lists.

Now as he and the Spirit embark on a run at the Canadian Hockey League crown’s jewel tournament of champions against the Moose Jaw Warriors (Western Hockey League), Drummondville Voltigeurs (Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League) and the London Knights (Ontario Hockey League), Misa admits he is relishing the opportunity to show scouts he can be one of the best on one of junior hockey’s biggest stages.

“It’s always good to play against the best of the best and it really pushes you to not take any shifts for granted and just work every second you’re out there,” said the first overall 2023 OHL pick, who along with his teammates open the Memorial Cup tonight against Moose Jaw. “It’ll definitely be a good tournament.”

That Misa is looking forward at performing on the big stage is no surprise to Saginaw general manager Dave Drinkill. His ability to dominate in the biggest games is why making Misa the No. 1 pick overall was so easy.

After all, Drinkill’s seen it before.

Misa was the force behind a powerhouse Mississauga Senators minor midget team that struggled to get into the 2022 OHL Cup and needed a play-in game to do so.

Once they got in though, Misa led the Senators all the way to the championship game where he scored three times and added a pair of assists to lead them to a 6-2 win over the Toronto Jr. Canadiens.

“He dominated that tournament, broke Connor McDavid’s records and they won the tournament, and he was granted exceptional status after that,” said Drinkill of his young star, who also led his team to a silver medal at the 2002 U17s and helped Canada win gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last August. “To me, he’s the best player to show up when the lights are the brightest. He showed that through his minor hockey career and he’s carried that into his OHL career.

“Playing with U17 Team Canada, he was great in Hlinka last year winning the gold medal and now we have the Memorial Cup, and I don’t expect anything different from him.”

While there’ll be bigger expectations placed on a player who was granted exceptional status to perform in the Memorial Cup, Drinkill knows Misa can shoulder the pressure that comes with that.

“Anywhere you go in Ontario, everybody’s coming to watch him play and they expect big things,” he said of the six-foot, 175-pound forward who had 29 goals and 75 points in 67 games this season. “Last year, his points per game were one of the best. He got injured a little bit and missed time, but he came back this year and still had a really good year. I think some people look at it why didn’t he get more points or whatever.

“He’s 16-years-old and on a powerhouse team and after the deadline you don’t play as many minutes as you did before we acquired Owen Beck and these guys like that. Michael took it all in stride. He’s such a good kid, he’s so humble and he wants to win. I know the pressure was on him, but he’s had pressure his whole career and he just rose above it. He’s got that calm demeanour and that humbleness about him that allows him to be the great player he is no matter what the pressure is.”

Misa has dealt with high expectations for some time now. It’s all part of the road to making his dream come true of playing in the National Hockey League some day.

“Just being able to put everything outside the rink behind you, not feeling the pressure, is something I’ve had to learn, especially coming into last year,” said Misa, whose older brother Luke plays with Mississauga and is a top prospect for this year’s NHL draft. “I think I’ve handled it pretty well, but there’s going to be a lot of eyes.

“All I can control is what I do on the ice and that’s what I’m going to try and focus on.”

While the addition of top veterans to beef up a roster set to host the Memorial Cup meant a little less ice time, power play time, Misa was all for it.

“In a year like the Memorial Cup you’re going to make additions to your team and bring in a lot of pieces, which is what we did and I’m happy with every piece we brought in because they’ve helped the team every way they could,” said Misa. “Just having them on our team it’s going to help us win the Memorial Cup here.”

Misa and the Spirit are also determined to get another crack at London. The Knights eliminated the Spirit in six games in the Western Conference final and the next 10 days gives Saginaw an opportunity to get back at their rivals.

“Definitely it stung,” Misa said of losing the tight series. “With the group of guys we had, we definitely thought we could win it all and we didn’t come up with the win. So, just getting a second look at them is something obviously we all wanted, and it’ll be good playing against the best of the best.”

For Misa, his development continues to be a work in progress and the Memorial Cup presents another chance to take that next step.

Pushing himself to be a better, more complete player.

“The main thing was speed and just being able to create offence,” he said of the things he felt he needed to improve this season. “Coming into this year, I wanted to work on my defensive game a lot. Just being able to play 200-feet, which is something that I didn’t do as much last year, but I’ve been really hard on myself about doing that kind of stuff which I think is pretty good.

“I’m just going to continue doing that for the Memorial Cup.”

Drinkill says he has learned so much more about his young star over these last two seasons. Like how humble he is, something the GM says was a result of the way his parents raised him.

“He just wants to be one of the guys,” Drinkill said of Misa. “He wants to help the team win. At the deadline this year, I’m not sure there was a more excited player on our team than him because he was so excited about adding these players for a chance at a championship. To me that’s a special person, because anyone that’s in his shoes could easily be egotistical or it’s about him and he’s not getting this or getting that and he’s not like that.

“I think that really sets him apart from the high-end guys that might have gotten that status and acted a little differently.

On the ice, it was his ability to adapt so quick at young age.

“On the ice, his play with the puck and ability to shield pucks and how he’s able to use his body to make plays, that surprised me a little bit,” said Drinkill. “Like the competitiveness, the drive, and the core for puck battles. I knew he had it in him, but not that he would have that at 15 or 16 years old.

“He showed he can do that against the big boys in a league that’s 19- and 20-years- olds and proved that right away.”

How high Misa goes in the NHL draft Drinkill feels is up to the young forward. He definitely believes that Misa has put himself in that conversation for the first overall pick.

“Any NHL team when they get to know Michael as a person and watch him play next year, they’re going to be really happy to have a kid like that in their organization,” said the GM. “With Michael and his exceptional status comes scrutiny. They’re going to be picking apart his game a little bit because he (will have) been in our league for three years (next season), but that’s part of the territory and I know Michael will rise above it and he’ll be raring to go.

“I know he’s raring to go for the Memorial Cup first and if he has a big tournament like we expect, it really helps prop him up for the start of next year’s draft class.”

That he has Luke to lean on through all this, has been a great deal of help for Misa.

“A 100 percent,” he said. “I text him all the time and just call him and see how he’s doing. Especially since I’m going to follow into his footsteps next year for the draft. Just ask how interviews have been going and his process with everything.”

Misa plans to be there in Las Vegas at the NHL draft along with his family later this month when Luke is expected to hear his name called.

“It’ll be fun, especially down at the Sphere in Vegas. It’s pretty crazy,” he said of the giant ball which has also been nicknamed “the eye.”

For now, his focus remains clearly on helping Saginaw win a Memorial Cup. Winning at home in front of their fans will make it that much more special.

“Especially since we get to host it and it’s the first time it’s ever been in the U.S., so it’s a huge honour,” said Misa. “I know the community of Saginaw is really excited to host it, so it should be a great event.

“They’ve supported us this whole year and we want nothing more than to win it for them.”

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