CANMORE – While the Canmore Eagles are known more for their offence than defence, there is one player grabbing everyone’s attention with his play along the blue line.
An addition to the junior A team prior to the start of this season, Mark Drohan is now in the conversation for the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s top defenceman award.
“It’s been going pretty much my way most of this season,” said Drohan, who leads all AJHL defencemen in scoring with 53 points (11 goals and 42 assists) and was among the top-10 in league-wide scoring for a short time last week. “It’s been a pretty fun season.”
The Eagles grabbed the prize defenceman in late June by moving the playing rights of d-man Adamu Tanaka and forward Justin Giacomin to the Calgary Canucks.
“Mark has been phenomenal,” said Eagles general manager and head coach Andrew Milne, while affirming that Drohan is certainly in the conversation as the league’s top defenceman this season.
“If he is not the best, he is one of the best for sure. His offensive numbers speak for themselves, everybody is going to read that and know he is good.
“It is the defensive stuff that Mark does really well that speaks volumes to his coaching staff and to his fellow players. He is never is trouble in his own end. He doesn’t spend a lot of time playing defence because he moves the puck so well, and he is so sneaky smooth with his skating.”
Twice this season, Drohan has been selected the league’s defensive player of the week, with the latest accolade covering the Jan. 7-13 window. Drohan has registered two four-point games and add to that seven three-point games. He has picked up at least a single point in 29 games and has not missed any of his team’s 48 games this season.
The 20-year-old is in his fifth season in the AJHL, having also played two seasons with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons followed by two seasons with his hometown Canucks.
Drohan’s junior career has turned out differently then what he envisioned after being a Western Hockey League third-round, 59th overall bantam draft pick in 2014 by the Tri-City Americans.
He left the Calgary Buffaloes midget AAA squad to try and land a spot with the Americans, but would feature in just two regular-season games and four playoff games. It would be a fateful decision as far as his future was concerned as a player, with just one major junior game on their resumé is considered ineligible for a National College Athletic Association scholarship.
“At this point I regret [going to the WHL]when I see how successful (U.S.) college is now and how much fun they are having,” said Drohan. “Just my stint in the WHL wasn’t worth it, although I do have a couple years of university paid for, but I somewhat regret it.”
After trying and failing again in 2015 to make Tri-City, Drohan played just 25 games with the Oil Barons before returning home to concentrate on his schooling. He did not play again until the start of the 2016-17 season when he joined the Canucks.
The door is still open for Drohan to continue to play competitively with a Canadian school, which might lead to further opportunities to play professionally down the road. Winning the AJHL top defenceman award would go a long way to helping that become a reality. The two most recent winners of the league award were also first-round NHL Entry Draft picks: Cale Makar (fourth overall, Colorado Avalanche, 2017) and Canmore-native Jacob Bernard-Docker (26th overall, Ottawa Senators, 2018).
Canmore finished up its January schedule with a home game against the Brooks Bandits on Tuesday night (Jan. 29), losing 10-6 to the No. 1 team in the nation, who improved to 44 wins and three losses on the season and extended their current winning streak to 20 games.
Jakob Lee had a hat trick for Brooks while Michael Spafford had two goals and one assist for Canmore.
The Bandits defeated the Eagles in all six meetings this season.
The Eagles went 5-5-2 for the month and reside in sixth place in the South Division with a record of 24 wins, 19 regulation-time losses and five overtime/shootout defeats for 53 points.
This past week also saw the Eagles suffer an embarrassing 8-3 loss to the Calgary Canucks before 1,154 fans in Banff on Jan. 23, fall 5-2 to the Dragons in Drumheller on Friday (Jan. 25), and post a 3-1 victory over the Olds Grizzlies on home ice on Saturday (Jan. 26).
Colton Young, Quinton Ong and Spafford into an empty net scored for the Eagles in the win over the Grizzlies, sweeping the six-game, season-long series.
Along with a goal against Brooks, Drohan picked up two assists in the loss to the Canucks which gave him the league-lead in helpers at 42 before the weekend games were played.
Canmore begins February with two games on the road versus North Division opponents: Friday (Feb. 1) in Bonnyville and Saturday (Feb. 2) in Lloydminster.
OVERTIME: Canmore has had a previous winner of the AJHL top defenceman award with Trey Phillips winning it in 2014. He played four years at the University of Vermont (NCAA Div. 1) and is in his rookie professional season with the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL.
Eagles F Alex Young was having a month to remember with 17 points (9G-8A) in the first seven games, but was pointless in four consecutive games before registering an assist in the loss to Brooks. The 18-year-old centre is tied for fourth in league scoring at
59 points (28G-31A).
Drumheller (27-17-4) holds onto third place in the South Division, followed by the Calgary Mustangs
(25-17-6) and the Camrose Kodiaks (24-17-6), with five point separating the Eagles from the Dragons.
Russ Ullyot is a freelance writer and the play-by-play voice of the Canmore Eagles.