Dream come true for Percys
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
|You can tell Stuart Percy was a Maple Leafs fan growing up by the amount of memorabilia he has collected.
TORONTO - What hockey-happy couple in the GTA hasn’t dreamed their newborn son would pick up a stick, become a first-round draft pick of the Maple Leafs and help end 40-plus years of fan frustration?
Steve and Karen Percy aren’t the first — we’ll bet the parents of Drake Berehowsky, Jeff Ware, Brad Boyes and Carlo Colaiacovo once let imagination loose as well - and the Oakville-based Percys might not be the latest to find that fate has other plans.
But for the present, with Stuart Percy chosen 25th overall and set to begin his first Leafs prospects camp Monday at the MasterCard Centre, they’re looking at the world through blue and white lenses. What other team would have called the 6-foot-1 defenceman to the podium, 18 years and a few days after he was born amidst the last great Leafs hurrah, the Western Conference final against Los Angeles?
The morning after Toronto took a Game 1 lead, when Wendel Clark duked it out with Marty McSorley, Stuart arrived.
“Somehow, I remember the Leafs being more exciting than his birth,” laughed Steve Percy. “He was our second (sister Nicole, now a McGill student, was two years older) so there was less stress. He was delivered by our family doctor Glen Surbey, who played pro hockey (a draft pick of the Atlanta Flames).
“It was a very emotional time for me and everyone in the city. Certainly you’re happy at the birth of your son, but losing to the Kings meant there was no Cup final against Montreal. That would have been the last all-Canadian Cup between them, played in their original buildings.”
Steve, who works for Citibank Canada, has flickering black and white TV memories of the ’67 Cup. His favourite Leafs were Dave Keon, Ron Ellis and the late 60s’ vintage of Norm Ullman and Paul Henderson.
Though Steve describes the family’s Leafs energy level as “average, but not crazy”, there are classic photos of Stuart in his Leafs pyjamas, with logo wallpaper and player posters of Tie Domi, Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin.
“Those posters are still up, so they’re not going to be moved anytime soon,” Stuart said on draft day in St. Paul, Minn. “Just going down the QEW-Gardiner ... I’m very fortunate to be drafted by Toronto.”
Stuart began with mini-stick hockey around the house and took in his first NHL game as a five-year-old with Karen. It was a Leafs’-Bruins tilt, just before the Gardens closed. He started playing in the in the Burlington-Oakville area, jumped to the GTHL Jr. Canadians for one season, but his most important years would come with two organizations with historical Leafs ties, the Marlboros and St. Michael’s Majors.
He came up from minor bantam Marlies team, who were minor midget champs, featuring three others picked in St. Paul, Ryan Strome (fifth overall by the Islanders), Brett Ritchie and Lucas Lessio (second rounders to Dallas and Phoenix, respectively). Three more, Evan Rodrigues, Luke Juha and Eric Chevrier, received Division 1 NCAA scholarship offers. The coach was Ken Strong, who was part of the Darryl Sittler trade with Philadelphia almost 30 years ago, playing 15 games with the Leafs and full seasons on their St. Catharines farm team.
While those Marlie boys eventually scattered around the OHL, Stuart landed in his own backyard with Mississauga St. Mike’s. Under coach Dave Cameron, the Majors went far in the 2011 playoffs, losing to Owen Sound in the final and later to Saint John in the Memorial Cup. But that extra time on stage exposed him to Toronto general manager Brian Burke. Percy’s size, skill set and poise in the interview phase impressed the Leafs. His preference for No. 5 even had a Leafs angle to it with its Bill Barilko connection, though Percy wore it more in tribute to the great Detroit defenceman, Nicklas Lidstrom.
But the NHL is a long way off and Stuart is quite prepared to work on soft areas of his game next year with St. Mike’s and put in lots of time with the AHL Marlies.
“He’s about 186 pounds now and I think he has to put on about 14 to 15 more, so he won’t get clobbered out there,” Steve said. “But he’s smart and shifty and he’ll drop the gloves if he has to. We hope he develops along the lines of Luke Schenn.
“It would be absolutely wonderful if Stuart made it one day. But I’d be just as happy for Brian and the Leafs. They’ve taken a lot of heat over the years, even though they made it to the final four many times. You always think about that day it will happen.”