Home often is away in OHL

BILL LANKHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

When Tyler Seguin and Jeff Skinner moved from Toronto's minor hockey system to the Ontario Hockey League last autumn there were two things they found harder to come by: Goals. And mom's home cookin'.

But, not necessarily in that order.

"The billet family down here is great," says Seguin, of his second home in Plymouth, Mich.

"The Rangers are a great organization and really take care of us," says Skinner, of moving from Markham to Kitchener.

But when you are 16, boys trying to find your way among young men, it's not the same as ... well, mom and familiar surroundings.

"It took a month or two to get settled and not feel homesick," admits Seguin, who grew up in Brampton. "Now this is starting to feel more like my winter home. You get new parents with the host billet family. It's still nice; like having another mom and dad. At first while my mom would call or text me every day but now it's down to every two days, or so."

Says Skinner: "I knew there would be an adjustment phase. I'm settling in now."

Settling in would be a modest assessment. Seguin and Skinner are two of the hottest commodities in the OHL, back-to-back winners of player of the week honours. "You hardly ever see rookies win that award, and especially never two weeks in a row. They're both exceptional players," Whalers GM/coach Mike Vellucci said.

Skinner scored five goals and eight points in four games, with a plus-7 rating for the week ending Feb. 15. Seguin had a four-point game a week earlier and three goals and three assists to win the award. With 50 points in 52 games he has moved to seventh among OHL rookies.

The teams play Friday in Kitchener, the latest chapter in careers that seem to shadow each other. Teammates last year with the Toronto Young Nats, both were first-round picks in the OHL draft. Both abandoned ideas of U.S. college to pursue NHL aspirations. Both ended up with Team Ontario, and both scored in the gold medal win, at the world under-17 tournament this year. And, now both are turning scouts heads. "It's funny how it worked out," Seguin said. "We know each other but you're always competing against each other, too. It's business. Maybe I'll give him a wink or say, hi."

Team-mates? Yes. Once.

Soulmates? Not so much.

Skinner scored 65 goals in 55 games last year in the GTHL. His strength on skates goes back to his training as a competitive figure skater, placing third as a juvenile at the 2004 nationals. "But I hurt my knee in summer hockey. We decided to focus on hockey ... I wanted to see where the game takes me," Skinner said.

It has taken him to third in the OHL among rookies with 24 goals. "The big difference is the time and space -- you need to make quicker decisions here," said Skinner, "plus being away from home was a big adjustment."

But, the Rangers were so confident of his talents they traded Scott Timmins, who coach/GM Steve Spott called "a world class player".

"(Jeff) has moved into his role," Spott said. "We knew when we drafted him he was a special talent. But the fact he's got over 20 goals; he has been what we were hoping he would be."

Seguin had a slow start but since Verlucci took over as coach he has looked much like the player who scored 39 goals and 86 points last year with the Nats. "About a month ago, I told him: Does he want to be good or does he want to be great. And he has the capability to be great," said Verlucci, with Seguin now third in team scoring. "From scoring goals, to setting up goals, to playing in his own end, the last two months he has been dynamic. He's one of the best I've had as a 16 year old. I knew he would be good. I didn't think he would be this good, this early."

In other words, they're cookin'. Mom would be proud.


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