Courted by half a dozen NCAA schools, Powell Connor talked to his parents Saturday and placed a call to the Michigan State University (MSU) Spartans head coach Danton Cole.
The 17-year-old Chilliwack Chiefs defenceman committed (for 2019-20) to the Big 10 Conference powerhouse which has sent 500 players to the NHL, including current stars Duncan Keith, Torey Krug and Justin Abdelkader. The Spartans play out of the 6,470-seat Munn Ice Arena.
“I flew down for a one-day trip last week and it was really nice,” said Connor, who was born in Chilliwack but began his minor hockey career in Vernon. “The campus is huge and they have top-of-the-line facilities. They’re looking to upgrade the rink and it’s already nice. They want to add new dressing rooms.”
A sophomore with the Chiefs, Connor met the coaching staff and was shown around the East Lansing grounds by former Chief teammate Jake Smith. Connor earlier flew to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. to check out the Lake Superior State Lakers of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
“There were a lot of reasons I chosen Michigan State, but I liked that I will have the opportunity to play right away and develop for pro hockey. They lose two d-men this year and one next year so I’ll be the young guy and hopefully we can do good things. It’s one of the best conferences in the NCAA. You play against all the top teams and a lot of the best NHL players have gone there. I’m excited and really looking forward to the experience.”
The menacing 6-foot-2, 185-pounder is a gym rat and figures MSU was high on his play-till-ya-drop style.
“I bring a bit of an old-school style. I can play physical and I can move pucks up the ice. I want to keep getting bigger so I can compete at the college level.”
Connor cheers for the Oilers and Lightning and loves to watch NHL blueliners Victor Hedman (of the Bolts) and St Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo.
Dennis Holland, a full-time scout with the Dallas Stars, has filed several checklists on Connor, watching him closely at the Team Canada West Under 17 training camp in Calgary in early December.
“He’s a young d-man with lots of emotion and energy,” said the Vernon-based Holland. “He brings a physical element to his game, he’s got a heavy shot and he can skate. His physicality is intriguing. He looks to be part of the solution by being so engaged. You can never have enough players like that.”
Chilliwack head coach/GM Jason Tatarnic said the Chiefs had Connor on their radar well before signing him as a 16-year-old.
“He was at our spring camps so we identified him when was pretty young,” said Tatarnic. “We liked him. At the time, he had no fear. He didn’t care if you were a 20-year-old or a 16-year-old. He defended well. He’s committed. He takes care of his body and he eats well. He loves playing the game; you can really tell he wants to be out there. He has a good skill set, a great shot and he can jump into the rush.”
Tatarnic loves Connor’s versatility and reliability, and uses him on the penalty kill and power play.
Connor, who played one year of Major Midget Quad with the Okanagan Rockets before joining the Chiefs, rang up three goals and 16 points as a rookie with Chilliwack. The soft-spoken student of the game has two goals, 19 points and 49 penalty minutes this season. He turns 18 in May and has shown up on past NHL Central Scouting prospect lists.
Retired NHLer Sandy Moger coached Connor in Bantam Tier 1 and Atom Development in Vernon.
“He’s always been a hard worker and a good kid,” said Moger, director of hockey operations for Greater Vernon Minor Hockey Association. “He’s smart and I always thought he’d make it to Junior A and probably get a scholarship. He does everything well.”