They may have fallen just short of a Memorial Cup championship this year, but it was an Ontario Hockey League season that Nick Suzuki and Isaac Ratcliffe will remember for the rest of their lives.
Suiting up together with the London Jr. Knights during the 2014-15, they figured it would likely be their last time playing on the same line, let alone on the same team. As fate would have it, the childhood friends would reunite on the ice four years later.
With both entering their fourth season in the OHL, Suzuki started the year in Owen Sound, while Ratcliffe was named captain of the Guelph Storm. It looked like the pair would finish their junior careers as they began, facing off as division rivals.
It was something they had both accepted as they pursued their pro hockey dreams.
That is, until Ratcliffe got a call from his childhood friend in early January, interrupting his pregame nap. As Ratcliffe recalls, he didn’t mind the wake-up call one bit.
“He asked what I was up to, and I just said: ‘Oh, nothing much, just taking my pregame nap. What are you up to?’ He told me he was on the way to Guelph; he just got traded,” Ratcliffe said in an interview on Around the OHL.
“I pretty much jumped out of bed and sprinted down the street. I was so excited I was screaming into the phone,” Ratcliffe said.
It didn’t take long for the former linemates to find the chemistry that helped make them both first-round picks in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection.
“We figured out we’d be living together, and it just brought all those memories back. I feel like right away it clicked. Game 1 we played in Niagara together, and you saw it right away,” Ratcliffe added.
The pair had a goal and an assist each in the game, with Suzuki capping off his Storm debut with the overtime winner.
Ratcliffe and Suzuki both played crucial roles to help the Storm go on a memorable run en route to an OHL championship. Suzuki had 42 points in 24 games and was named playoff MVP.
“The belief in our team in that locker room was unbelievable. If you asked me when I was 16 years old if I was going to captain the Storm to an OHL championship, I would have never believed you,” said Ratcliffe.
“Doing it the way we did made it all that (much) more special.”
At the OHL Awards banquet this week at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ratcliffe received the Mickey Renaud Captain’s Trophy, while Suzuki was once again recognized as the league’s Most Sportsmanlike Player, becoming the first player to win the award on three occasions.
It’s not entirely uncommon for athletes to recognize their teammates when they win a league award, and that’s exactly what Suzuki did.
“First of all, I’d like to thank Isaac (Ratcliffe). He took a lot of the penalty minutes for me,” Suzuki said during his acceptance speech, which was met by chuckles from those in attendance.
As far as what’s next, the pair sets their sights on the pros as Suzuki tries to earn a spot with the Montreal Canadiens and Ratcliffe looks to do the same with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Looking back, though, Ratcliffe says it was the perfect way to cap off his junior career.
“We pretty much started our hockey careers together and we ended our junior hockey career together so, either way, OHL championship or not, it was just icing on the cake to say we finished it off together,” he said.
Suzuki finished his OHL career with 141 goals and 328 points, while Ratcliffe tallied 124 goals and 17 points during his four years in the league.
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