The real deal

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:05 AM ET

The word was out. The Syvret family had made a reservation at a restaurant in the small town of Rockton. News spread quickly that local hero Danny Syvret was in the area.

By the time the family had found their table, a group of bicycle-riding youngsters had made it to the restaurant looking for Syvret.

Syvret didn't disappoint. He signed autographs, talked to the kids, posed for pictures and took all the time in the world with them.

It made their day. It probably made Syvret's day as well.

The London Knights captain was in the area with teammate Jordan Foreman and assistant general manager Jim McKellar. He was being honoured in Cambridge with a Danny Syvret Night.

Syvret had been a member of the Cambridge Winterhawks junior B team.

Not that it matters where Syvret goes these days.

As one of the most public personas of the most successful junior teams in Canada, and as a member of the gold-medal winning national junior hockey team, he suffers from attention overload. The public can't seem to get enough of the curly-haired young blue-liner.

He'll drop a puck here, do a reading to children there, and sign autographs constantly. He's the media's dream athlete -- available, accommodating, earnest and bright.

For the average player, all this would be onerous. But Syvret is really not an average hockey player.

How many take an economics course at university because they want to "wake up and do something . . . get my brain thinking?"

How many go out of their way to meet people and attend events because they "love learning stuff?"

Syvret's skill on the ice is obvious. But it's his skill off the ice that puts him in a special category.

He's the real deal.

Brian Boyes is the trainer for the Oshawa Generals and was on the training staff for the world junior team. Two days after Canada won its gold medal, Oshawa came to London to play the Knights.

"The buses arrived (at the John Labatt Centre) at the same time," Boyes said.

"(London) was coming back from Windsor and we were coming from Brampton.

"It was about 1:30 in the morning. (Syvret) came over to say hello. Our players were at the hotel. The bus was full of our bags. He helped us unload the bus. He didn't stop, say hi, carry in one bag and leave; he stayed and helped unload the whole bus.

"That tells me what kind of kid he is, the kind of character he has. I'd go the extra mile for that kid."

On the corner across from the John Labatt Centre is J Dee's Market Grill. It's a favourite spot for Knights fans and Syvret and his family.

"It's the first game after he won the gold medal. The place was filled," said Mike Bannon, co-owner of the restaurant.

"He went from table to table showing the medal, signing autographs, getting pictures taken. He would ask, 'Who wants to wear it?' And he would put it on them. He was sharing the experience.

"Sometimes I feel sorry for him. He comes in, wants to eat and he has a curfew. He has a half an hour of standing and talking. He's very gracious."

Gracious and respectful, words often missing in today's world of athletes.

"I enjoy the stuff off the ice. It's not a pain," Syvret says. "It's fun interacting with fans. Everyone wants to learn a story from you. If you learn a story from them, you learn about people's lives. Having people wanting to learn about your life is comforting."

Syvret comes from Millgrove. The town is so small that the other side of the "Welcome to Millgrove" sign says "Thanks for Coming."

He has a strong family that has taught him respect and humility. Father Dave is a scout with the Knights.

"They have the strongest sense of family of anyone I've met," McKellar says.

A group of relatives made up of aunts, uncles and his grandmother (Froggy, Chick, Nanna et al) travel to every one of Syvret's games no matter where it is.

They've seen an eyeful this year. Even though Syvret, 19, hasn't been drafted, he is the captain of a team that has broken numerous records.

"It's been a career year, the best year of my life," Syvret says. "It seems everything is going right. I'm so fortunate to have good guys around me."

Some would suggest it's Syvret who makes people around him better.

He headed a small group of players who bore the brunt of the media onslaught as the team set the Canadian Hockey League record for being unbeaten in 31 games. As the streak continued, it wasn't unusual to see Syvret facing a long line of cameras and microphones. He never complained, never refused. He turned that into a learning experience as well.

"Syvret's on-ice story is simple. He has performed consistently at the highest level.

Brent Sutter, coach of Canada's national junior team, recognizes the kind of package Syvret presents.

"He's a very intelligent kid, well thought out," Sutter says. "He speaks very well and he's got great leadership qualities. He's a smart kid who understands the game."

Ask Syvret why he wasn't drafted by an NHL team and he's succinct.

"Someone made a mistake," he replies.

Ask him about his size and he's just as succinct.

"Come watch a game," he says. "You can't really measure the size of someone's character or the size of someone's heart."

Nor can you measure attitude, the right kind of attitude.

"I'm not looking to the future," Syvret says. "I just want to come in here in May and hoist the Memorial Cup. To play for your country, win a gold medal and win a Memorial Cup. . . . I don't think it could get much better than that. If I don't get signed by a team or go on to play anywhere, I know I had a great career and had fun."


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