By Terry Doyle
After being the second overall pick in the 2010 OHL Priority Selection, Brendan Gaunce is used to lofty expectations.
The Belleville Bulls forward has been picked by many to be a first-round choice in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. But Gaunce does not need to look very far for support when under the watchful eyes of NHL scouts and managers. His older brother Cameron went through a similar process in 2008 before being chosen by Colorado.
“We talk a lot, I'm lucky for that with my family, we're all very close,” said Gaunce, 17. “He was home for the AHL All-Star Break just before I (went to Prospects) - we were together for two days. He's great to me and I can't thank him enough for that.”
Gaunce can also turn to his coach for support; George Burnett has seen many players go through the NHL Draft process in his time behind an OHL bench.
“There are a lot of lines that I can go to and our coach Mr. Burnett, he's obviously been through it with coaching and being a player himself. He's a great resource and I can talk to a bunch of people so I'm lucky in that sense.”
Last week, Gaunce took part in the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Kelowna, BC. He was a member of Team Cherry at the event, losing to Team Orr 2-1 in a tightly-contested game.
“We were treated amazing (in Kelowna). It's a great opportunity for me and my teammate Daniil Zharkov to be able to come and see the best players across Canada and the CHL,” added Gaunce.
When it comes to the Bulls, they have gone through a bit of a roller coaster season. Once atop the Eastern Conference, they now find themselves battling for playoff positioning.
The club has been hampered by the injury bug for much of the season. Most recently, NHL draft-eligible goaltender Malcolm Subban has been nursing an injury that saw him miss the entire month of January. Gaunce does not want to make excuses for Belleville’s recent struggles, and is willing to put some of it on his shoulders.
“Our first half was better than we thought it could have been. We were in second or third at the break. I was happy with my own play at that point,” explained the Markham Waxers graduate.
“But then in the second half we came out a little bit weak and we haven't been playing as well as we should have. And with that I don't think my play has been as it should too. I think that's been a problem with our team. But we're confident we can come back into the win column.”
The race in the Eastern Conference is very close and a short streak of wins or losses could have a major impact on the standings.
“That's what happened to us, we lost a couple games against division opponents and we slid down the rankings pretty far. But we have a lot of conference games left and we still have a good feeling in our team that we can get back into the top four and have home ice advantage for the playoffs.”
By Terry Doyle