The Major route to the NHL for Boyce and Brent

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:21 PM ET

TORONTO - Darryl Boyce has no trouble recalling the Maple Leafs’ most recent playoff run.

Boyce and Leafs teammate Tim Brent were playing hockey not far from the Air Canada Centre during that 2003-04 season, skating in the colours of the St. Michael’s Majors of the Ontario Hockey League at St. Mike’s Arena.

“To imagine playing just down the street ... I remember the last time the Leafs were in the playoffs, this place was a zoo,” Boyce said of the city as a whole.

“After their games I liked to come downtown and feel the atmosphere, the city being in a buzz. All my dreams are sort of coming true right now.”

We realize that it would require a small miracle for Boyce and Brent to experience this spring the craziness that seeps into Toronto when the Leafs are in the Stanley Cup tournament, but that they are Leafs at all is a significant accomplishment in itself.

They were teammates for three seasons with the Majors, playing for coach Dave Cameron, who several years ago returned to the Greater Toronto Area and now coaches the Majors in Mississauga, where the club will play host to the 2011 Memorial Cup.

Brent’s job with the Leafs is his first full-time gig in the NHL; the same goes for Boyce, who never was drafted and was signed by former general manager John Ferguson as a free agent during the 2007-08 season.

Though it took them years to cement their hockey footing, both pointed to playing for Cameron at St. Mike’s as crucial in their development.

“St. Mike’s was the start of really becoming a professional for both of us,” Brent said. “I left St. Mike’s as a pro before I actually became a professional just because of the discipline and the way we had to manage our time there.”

Brent was drafted — twice, as it turned out — by the Anaheim Ducks after his all-around game in junior included a scoring touch.

Boyce, however, never topped 50 points in four OHL seasons, and though he became a defensively responsible player under Cameron, it was not until he skated for two years at the University of New Brunswick that he had more production.

“I played an offensive role, but I was still aware of defence,” Boyce said of his time at UNB, which included a national title in 2007.

“I never liked being scored on, never was that guy who would cherry-pick at the blue lines. I don’t know what the word would be, I just sort of felt free out there, and sure enough, it worked.”

It’s fair to say that Cameron had players under his guidance at St. Mike’s who might have had more base talent than Brent or Boyce. But intangibles helped indicated where their hockey careers might take them.

“Both were passionate and intelligent,” Cameron said. “In Tim’s case, the offence came more naturally, and Darryl was more of a tenacious, hound-the-puck type player. Both were fearless.

“I always tell my players that if you are good enough, (pro teams) will find you. It’s always nice to be able to have a living example.”

There’s no telling how Brent and Boyce figure in the Leafs’ long-term plans, as forwards in the bottom six often can be interchangeable. But both have put forth a work ethic that ensures they could be solid pieces for the foreseeable future.

As such, they’re the only two NHLers who are playing in the same city in which they played major junior.

“In junior, I don’t think you would have paired me and Timmy together as going along that path to the NHL, but we each took a different route,” Boyce said.

“Timmy banged around in the minors for a bit, and it is awesome to share this with him. We grew up together in the OHL, and it’s satisfying to know that we got to the NHL together.”


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