11/24/2006 3:59 PM - Defenseman Danny Syvret wasted little time in following in the footsteps of his father, a former pro himself
Story and photo by Mark Newman
Danny Syvret is barely 21 years old and he’s already found his way into not one but two Hall of Fame institutions.
Of course, those things happen when you were the captain of what many consider to be one of the greatest junior hockey teams ever.
Syvret was a leader on the London Knights hockey team during the 2004-05 season, an experience that was way beyond anything he could have imagined.
Calling it “a dream season” doesn’t begin to describe the unprecedented year he enjoyed.
Syvret won OHL and Memorial Cup championships as well as a world junior gold medal as a member of Team Canada.
He was named Canadian Major Junior Defenseman of the Year and the Ontario Hockey League’s Most Outstanding Defenseman, in addition to being selected to every junior all-star team under the sun.
The year culminated with Syvret being selected in the third round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers.
“To have things fall into place like they did was phenomenal, especially for me since I hadn’t been drafted my first two years,” Syvret said. “It was an amazing experience.”
Syvret and his Memorial Cup-winning teammates were recently inducted into the London (Ontario) Hall of Fame. Earlier, the group had been honored with a display in the front foyer of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
No one will dispute that Syvret’s Knights were special. The team rewrote the Canadian Major Junior Hockey record book, including an incredible 31 consecutive games without a loss (29-0-2).
“We were just having fun going to the rink every day, regardless of whether it was for a practice or a game,” he said. “We were always having fun.”
London entered the 2004-05 season with a core of returning players.
“We knew we were going to have a good team, but I don’t think anybody expected us to be that good. But everything just kept working, the puck kept going into the net, and we kept winning. To be honest, we felt invincible.”
The Memorial Cup is junior hockey’s answer to the Stanley Cup. A round-robin tournament pits the champions of the Western Hockey League (WHL), the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), along with a host club. The two top teams in the Memorial Cup series play a single title game to determine the champion.
Syvret’s Knights took the title with a 4-0 victory over the Quebec league’s Rimouski Oceanic, a team that featured NHL phenom Sidney Crosby, in the final at John Labett Centre in London.
“To play for the Memorial Cup on home ice is something I’ll always remember,” Syvret said.
Syvret, the son of former Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Dave Syvret, led the OHL with a plus-70 rating. As captain, he saw his role mainly as “a calming force” in high-pressure games.
“We had good leadership throughout the whole team,” he recalled. “It wasn’t like I was the sole leader we had. For the most part, being captain just meant having a letter on my jersey.”
Being a member of the Memorial Cup champions after earning a gold medal as a member of Team Canada taught Syvret something about winning, an attitude that he hopes will carry over to this season.
Syvret was assigned by the Edmonton Oilers (who retain his rights) to the Griffins, one of five AHL teams with whom the organization has affiliation agreements this season.
The partial affiliation between the Oilers and Griffins came at the suggestion of Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill.
Griffins general manager Bob McNamara, who had tested the waters with the Oilers with the addition of Edmonton property Nate DiCasmirro last season, was amenable to the idea.
“We felt it could be a mutually beneficial relationship,” said McNamara, who coveted the offensive skills of Syvret. “As long as all parties came to an understanding – everybody’s eyes have to be wide-open – we felt comfortable entering into the agreement.”
Syvret was happy to come to Grand Rapids after what he termed a “disappointing” rookie season, despite playing in 10 NHL games with Edmonton. He spent most of the season in the AHL with Hamilton, where he appeared in 62 games.
After recording 23 goals with London during 2004-05, Syvret didn’t tally a single goal during his first pro season.
“Things didn’t work out the way I wanted,” he said. “I don’t have the solution to what happened and obviously I didn’t last year either. I felt like I played pretty well in the NHL. Being young, I tried to keep things simple.”
He welcomed the change of venue for 2006-07. Although he would have preferred to have been told that he would be starting the season in the NHL, he was excited to learn he was being sent to the Red Wings organization.
“I like the way Detroit plays,” he said. “Being an offensive defenseman, it’s like you’re in heaven. They let you be creative and that’s what I like.”
Syvret hopes to rediscover the scoring touch that helped his London team make history.
“Obviously the memories are still there,” he said. “If I could turn my clock back to that time, I would. It was a blast, for sure, but it’s time to move on.”
Syvret will try to put into practice the many lessons he has learned from his father.
Dave Syvret coached his son from age 4 to 15, and shared his experiences as a professional hockey player, having appeared in the WHA and AHL back in the 1970s before Danny was born.
“When our team wasn’t doing very well, I might have been the one who took the brunt of it. Obviously it’s easy to be hard on your kid when he’s on your team.”
Syvret always tried to take his father’s advice to heart. He still does. “Even to this day, we watch a lot of hockey at home and he will critique a guy’s play,” Syvret said.
“For example, we’ll be watching a Red Wings game and he’ll say something like ‘I like how Lidstrom jumped up and supported his partner there.’ It’s almost like I’m still being coached at home.”
His father, who now runs a trucking company in Burlington, Ontario, always encouraged his boys to follow their passions.
Danny’s older brother Dave played hockey until he was 18, then became a professional jetskier. He now lives in Florida, where he operates a golf shop in Fort Myers.
His younger brother, Cory, meanwhile, is following in Danny’s footsteps. He was drafted by London in the first round of the OHL draft as an underage junior.
“Cory and I are completely different players,” Syvret said. “He’s a big physical presence, a real stay-at-home defenseman. Nobody really compares us, which is just as well.”
Cory is also into dirt bike racing. “I’m the only non-racer,” Syvret said.
Which is not to say that Syvret wouldn’t mind life in the fast lane known as the NHL.
If that road leads through a full season in Grand Rapids, that’s OK by him. “I’m going to work hard and hopefully I’ll be able to play with a little more confidence,” he said.
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