NORTH BAY, Ont. – Brett McKenzie and Mike Baird have signed education contracts with the North Bay Battalion, the Ontario Hockey League club announced Thursday.
Centre McKenzie was the Battalion’s first-round pick, 10th overall, in the OHL Priority Selection on April 6. Left winger Baird was tabbed in the second round.
Both players attended the club’s orientation camp at North Bay on May 25-26 and are among five Battalion prospects who advanced to the final camp for the Ontario under-17 camp at Oshawa in August.
McKenzie, a six-foot-one, 178-pound resident of Vars, Ont., had 38 goals and 64 assists for 102 points in 63 games last season with the Oakville Rangers minor midgets, who captured the Ontario Minor Hockey Association title and the OHL Cup.
“I really noticed how intense everything was at the camp,” said McKenzie, who turned 16 on March 12. “The guys were great, and the community was really involved.”
McKenzie said he has a busy summer ahead as he prepares for his first major junior season.
“I need to be always working to get better, and that’s what I’ll be doing. I want to work on my stickhandling. I think I have to improve on my speed and my endurance on the ice. I have to be ready to throw bigger hits, because the game is so much more physical in the OHL. I saw how fit the older guys were at the orientation camp, and that’s what I have to work towards.”
Baird, six-foot-one and 171 pounds, scored nine goals and added 13 assists for 22 points with 252 penalty minutes in 53 games for the Southern Tier Admirals minor midgets. He turned 16 on March 25.
“I’ve been on the ice a couple of times a week and I’ve been adding some of the North Bay workout program to what I normally do,” he said via telephone after an on-ice session in Toronto. “I’m trying to get in the best shape I can before the end of August. I’ve been focusing on the core exercises and upper-body workouts.”
Baird produced some offence during the orientation camp’s four on-ice sessions.
“It was fun to play those games. It was good to score some goals. I’m not always used to that. It opened up my eyes to all the other guys who are out there. I didn’t think I was too far away from any of them, so anything I can do to get an upper hand on those guys will help me.”
Baird has heard his physical style of play will endear him to fans in North Bay.
“I like the physical side of the game, but you can’t just be a physical player anymore. I’m working a lot on my skills so they’re where they should be when I make the move to the OHL. I’ll be playing against guys who’ll be going to the National Hockey League. The OHL is a really good league.”
Baird said he expects to take some time to adjust to life in the OHL.
“I’ll find my role and know what I can do. I don’t expect to do anything special, since it will be a new experience for me, but I’ll do anything I can do to help out the team.”
Baird hails from Cayuga, Ont., a community of 2,000 south of Hamilton. He said he’s both excited and nervous about relocating to North Bay.
“I’ve never really done anything like this before in my life. I come from a small town and will be moving to North Bay, which, to me, is a big city. There’ll be a lot of fans. Going to a new school will be different. It will take me some time to get to know people. I’ll be trying to be a good guy in the community, and that’ll be a new thing too. I've never really been recognized anywhere before.”
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)