The most interesting athletes have always marched to the beat of their own drummers.
The London Knights' best player deserves his own band.
David Bolland, the gifted glider anointed to skate into the massive blade marks left by former Knights stars Corey Perry and Rick Nash, knows there's a lot of weight riding on his slight shoulders this season.
He will be the face of the defending Memorial Cup champions this year. But right now, he's just trying to wrap his head around hockey as an occupation and treating his array of puck skills as tools of a potentially lucrative trade.
"I came here (to London) four years ago pretty wide-eyed, but the biggest thing I've learned over the last little while is that hockey is a job," the 19-year-old forward said.
"You get to this age and it's not just a place to come and hang out and have fun any- more. It's a possible career and that's the way you have to look at it."
Fun had always been a big part of Bolland's motivation for doing anything. The Chicago Blackhawks prospect, who followed up a solid 37-goal season in 2003-04 with 34 goals and 85 points with last year's Memorial Cup champs, banks on this path proving more successful than his first foray into the working world.
"As a kid, I had a paper route with my brother. We delivered the Etobicoke Guardian," the Toronto native said.
"My dad would help us out and everything but it only lasted a day or two before I said, 'Forget this. I'm playing hockey.' "
After attending the Canadian world junior summer camp in August and returning from Chicago's training camp this week, the shifty scorer was tabbed by London GM Mark Hunter and head coach Dale Hunter as a heart-and-soul guy with this year's Knights.
"I think David Bolland is going to be a guy who steps up and takes a leadership role on and off the ice," Mark Hunter said this week. "I'm a big David Bolland fan. How could you not be?"
It's almost as tough as putting pressure on the six-foot, 174-pounder. Anxiety melts off Bolland like a mid-summer ice cream sundae.
"My only goal is to play hard every game and enjoy it. I'm not going to worry about whether I'm scoring or not," he said. "I'm looking forward to a leadership role. Last year, there were 20 leaders on this team. Now, I have to make sure guys are getting to the rink on time. I have to make sure I get to the rink on time."
The alarm clock has been working well since Bolland teamed up with personal trainer Dan Blackburn, who pushes the young star on both the big and small stuff.
"He's my friend but he's kind of like my personal assistant," Bolland said. "He's on me about what I eat. He says, 'You have to be at this certain place at nine o'clock (in the morning)' and I say, 'OK, I'll be there.'"
Whatever he's eating, Bolland hasn't bulked up much -- a point that causes irritation in him. He has never been concerned about being pushed around in the OHL and won't start fretting about his size.
"I'm still growing," he said. "(The weight) will happen when it happens. I'm not going to be pressured by that stuff. I'm not worried about the new rules and how they affect me. If a guy's bigger than me, then it'll be easier for me to go around him."
New-look London takes on Saginaw tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre.
The Spirit opened the season at home Wednesday night with a 7-2 loss to Plymouth. Whalers forward Dan Collins picked up three goals and six points in the contest and has the early lead in the OHL scoring race.
All that can be said about the Knights for sure this season is Bolland will be among the league's leaders.
"We won't know who we're getting back from pro camps for a while," Bolland said. "If we don't get anybody else, then we like this team. We think we're going to be all right this year."
Knights vs. Spirit
When: Tonight, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre
Pregame: A 15-minute ceremony honouring the achievements of the 2004-05 Memorial Cup champion Knights team.
Opening night roster
Goal: Chris Wall, Steve Mason
Defence: Frank Rediker, Matt McCready, Scott Aarssen, Steve Ferry, Robbie Drummond, Karl Kubat, Andrew Wilkins, Ryan Martinelli, Corey Syvret
Forwards: David Bolland, Josh Beaulieu, Trevor Kell, Kyle Moore, Kris Belan, Matt Clarke, Kelan Herr, Jamie VanderVeeken, Sergei Kostitsyn, Matt Davis, Mike Steadman, Jordan Foreman, Adam Perry