ST. CATHARINES— On a frigid Sunday afternoon, the Niagara region congregated to Meridian Centre. For the first time this OHL season, the Niagara IceDogs played an afternoon home game. Their opponent would be their divisional rival Sudbury Wolves. Who comes into the contest were two points behind the IceDogs in the standings. Sitting in the press box was young Icedogs right winger Jonah De Simone.
Turning 17 at the end of February. Jonah De Simone was one of four healthy scratches in Sunday’s game against Sudbury. With Niagara returning to a full lineup, it means that rookie De Simone may have to see reduced ice time.
But this reality does not bother the young forward. Instead, Jonah possesses an incessant supply of optimism. He realizes that with patience and continued hard work in practice, the IceDogs right winger will be an asset for the team down the road.
“The sky is the limit on what this team can achieve this season,” says De Simone when speaking of the IceDogs. “Whether it’s competing for an OHL Championship or potentially having the opportunity to play in the Memorial Cup, I am just proud and thankful to be soaking in such a fantastic experience.”
No Greater Feeling than Making Jump to OHL
Jonah De Simone could not have dreamt of better present circumstances. One year ago, he was playing Triple AAA Minor Midget hockey for the Mississauga Reps. In 53 games played, he generated 11 goals and 13 assists. His offensive abilities and speed in the attacking zone caught the attention of Niagara IceDogs general manager Joey Burke.
“Jonah is a guy with big offensive upside, who is detailed, moves well, and works extremely hard,” said Burke. “He will fit in great with our style here in Niagara.”
For De Simone, his happiness could not be contained. It was an opportunity to play for a historical OHL organization, that produced some of hockey’s most successful superstars. One such as former Chicago Blackhawks captain Stan Mikita.
“After a long Minor Midget season, it means so much to have your hard work being recognized by a quality team like Niagara,” says De Simone. “I was so excited to be given the opportunity to play and I feel like I’ve made the most of it this season.”
Jonah De Simone Unafraid of Transition to OHL
When Jonah De Simone sported the IceDogs uniform for the first time, he noticed a great deal of change from his days in the GTHL. Junior hockey is faster. The players are stronger and more physical. While the initial learning curve was steep, De Simone was up for the challenge. His practices were spent harnessing his speed and physicality. Enhancing these qualities to create consistent scoring opportunities.
“I remember my first exhibition game, the guys were bigger and stronger,” recalls De Simone. “It’s a big difference but as you play more games and get adjusted, I was able to get my head in that space where you need to be to have success in the OHL.”
On October 24th, the practice paid off for young Jonah. In a 3-0 win against the Peterborough Petes, De Simone scored his first career OHL goal. For a rookie in his first season, it is a feat that still puts a huge smile on De Simone’s face.
“The coaches always emphasize for me to do my job and use my speed to my advantage,” says De Simone. “All of that advice played a role in me scoring my first OHL goal. To know that I could score in junior hockey, in addition to playing in the GTHL, it was very exciting.”
De Simone Credits Alma Mater in Preparation for OHL
In the rare occurrences Jonah gets to go to his home of Richmond Hill, Ontario, he always pays a visit to his alma mater, The Country Day School. The Country Day School is a private institution. It is nestled in the fields of King City, Ontario. It was founded in 1972. Since then, CDS has gained a reputation in producing athletes that go on to have successful careers in their respective sports.
When I went to CDS from Grades 2 to 12, banners and trophies of the school’s athletic success were shown off with pride. If you look closely at graduation composites scattered throughout the walls of the school, names like Elvis Stoijko (three-time World Champion figure skater) or Mike Cammalleri (former NHL player) could be found. The talk of the school during my high school years were these two young hockey players. Their names were Victor Mete and Jakob Chychrun. They both would go on to be drafted in the NHL and are currently playing for the Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes respectively.
Jonah De Simone embraced the tight-knit community of CDS. As a star athlete who played on both hockey and track teams, he excelled in an environment that preaches an educational approach predicated on balancing academics with extracurricular activities.
“Going to CDS was a huge part of my life. The relationships I have built there are for life,” says De Simone. “Every time I go back, I make sure to say hi to the staff. They built my confidence to pursue my dream of hockey. I am truly thankful for that.”
Skills From CDS
The skills and lessons learned from the classroom at CDS allowed De Simone to succeed when he got drafted to Niagara. From eight in the morning to one in the afternoon on weekdays, Jonah diligently learns the same material that high schoolers learn in classrooms. But unlike most high school students, De Simone excels in academics and translates this work ethic on the ice. Last November, De Simone was awarded the OHL Central Division Academic Player of the Month. While he misses his peers and teachers from CDS, De Simone is proud of the sacrifice he made, in order to achieve his dream of playing in the NHL. However, the memories and knowledge acquired from CDS will never be forgotten, according to Jonah.
“CDS helped me prepare for a busy schedule and to achieve the balance between academics and hockey,” says De Simone. “Seeing the care the teachers put into my development as an individual put me ahead of the curve compared to other students. While I do miss the relationships I have built, I know I made the right decision in playing for the IceDogs.”
De Simone Receptive to Mentorship from Icedogs Teammates
Jonah De Simone got drafted to the Niagara IceDogs at the perfect time. With a roster filled with veteran players, Niagara made the bold moves of acquiring Boston Bruins prospect Jack Studnicka and Kingston Frontenacs leading scorer Jason Robertson at the trade deadline. Both Studnicka and Robertson competed in the World Junior Hockey Championships. As well, they provide Niagara with a more prolific, high-scoring offence. Against Sudbury on Sunday, Robertson scored his 41st goal of the season. This leads all IceDogs players in scoring. They lost the game to Sudbury 5-4. Despite this, Studnicka had a chance to tie the game in the dying seconds of the third period. His shot went off the post.
Every day at practice, Jonah gets to watch how these players lead the team, as well as, propelling Niagara to contending for an OHL Championship.
“Playing with nine NHL draft picks and bringing in Studnicka and Robertson, I’m just soaking it all in,” says De Simone. “Their presence is immediately felt inside the locker room and on the ice.”
Not only does Jonah possess youthful energy. But, he is willing to learn from his other teammates. After every game, he is driven home by teammate Akil Thomas. Those car rides provide time for him and Jonah to talk hockey and learning how to succeed in the OHL and beyond.
“Akil always gives us little lessons during those car rides,” states De Simone. “The older players in the locker room can relate to your struggles and provide awesome advice. They constantly reassure me to never get down on myself and to keep working hard.”
De Simone Ready to Be Called At Any Moment
The Niagara IceDogs are currently tied for second in the Eastern Conference with the Sudbury Wolves. So, this makes them one of the few teams contending for a championship this year. With their high powered offence and ability to utilize speed to create scoring chances, the IceDogs are ready for a deep postseason run.
With three goals and one assist this season, Jonah is pleased with his progress. However, many rookies don’t see much ice time. For De Simone, he’s already played 43 games. This sample size has shown Jonah what he needs to improve on if he wants to be a consistent member of the team.
“With a healthy team, it will be hard to find ice time,” says De Simone. “I am going to continue to keep working hard and try to make an impact wherever I can. If the team needs me, I will be there to fill in.”
Many veteran players are leaving the team after this season. Because of that, De Simone is poised to make the roster full-time next season. With his endearing positive attitude and unequivocal determination, Jonah is a hockey player that every team would love to have in their organization.