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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Duchene opts for OHL over Spartans

Centre Matt Duchene has agreed to terms on an education contract with the Brampton Battalion, the Ontario Hockey League club announced Wednesday.

Duchene, the fifth overall pick in the OHL Priority Selection on May 5, scored 69 goals and earned 37 assists for 106 points in 52 games last season for the Central Ontario Wolves minor midgets.

“I’m so excited about coming to the Battalion,” Duchene, a 16-year-old resident of Haliburton, Ont. “It’s a great organization to be a part of, with great ownership and great coaching.”

Said Stan Butler, Battalion director of hockey operations and head coach: “This is big for our team. We had to make sure his post-secondary schooling needs were met. That was important for Matt and his family. It was also important for them to come down and get familiar with our organization and city.”

Just before the Battalion’s minicamp in early June, Duchene and his parents visited Toronto’s Humber College, which offers a bachelor of applied technology degree with a major in industrial design. A strong student, Duchene said the availability of that program was a major factor in his decision to enlist with the Troops.

“Humber has the program I want, and it’s the best place in Ontario to go for it. We had a great meeting with them.” Duchene, who had considered eventually attending Michigan State University, informed the school Monday of his decision. “It was really tough. It’s an outstanding school with a great hockey program. But they were good about it.”

Said Battalion owner Scott Abbott: “The OHL is the right place for a player of Matt’s stature, and we’re delighted that he’s decided to join the Battalion. We owe a debt of gratitude to Joe Birch of the OHL office for having helped him and his family reach the decision they did.”

At Butler’s invitation, Birch, the OHL’s director of recruitment and education services, attended a luncheon during the Battalion minicamp and met with the Duchene family afterwards. It was Birch’s first visit to an individual club’s minicamp. Duchene, who scored six goals in four minicamp games, said he looks forward to playing with Battalion veterans in 2007-08.

“The veterans were very welcoming and they seemed very excited about the upcoming season. They were great with all the new guys. I was a little unsure of how we would be received, but they gave some great advice.” Duchene acknowledged speaking to longtime friend Cody Hodgson, the Battalion’s first-round choice as a centre in 2006, who had 23 goals and 23 assists for 46 points in 63 games as a rookie. “I talked to him a little bit and asked about what I could expect at minicamp. He told me and helped me prepare for it. He had a great season, and I’d love to have the kind of success he had in my first season.”

Butler said Duchene is the kind of player who can contribute right away.

“I’ve always felt that Matt would be a good player at our level,” noted Butler. “At minicamp all he did was just reaffirm what I’d already known about him.

“I don’t like to put high expectations on players because, while they might have a good year, it might fall short of the expectations and people get down on them. But I think he’s as good as any of the 16-year-old players who’ll be coming into the league this season. I think he’ll show that once the season starts.”

Up next for Duchene is the Ontario under-17 team evaluation camp, which will run for four days starting next Tuesday at York University in Toronto. He’ll be joined by five other players chosen by the Battalion in May, numbering centre Craig Moore, left winger Josh Shalla, defencemen Kyle Pereira and David Pratt and goaltender Brandon Foote. A sixth player, right winger Chris Beauchamp, was invited but is recovering from knee surgery. The camp plays a part in identifying those who will represent Ontario at the 2008 World Under-17 Challenge at London, Ont., from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4.

“It’s great to have so many Battalion prospects at that camp,” said Duchene. “It’s an honour to be invited, and hopefully I’ll be able to impress the people there. It’s a big goal of mine to make that team.”

Duchene, 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, said he has a busy time ahead in preparing for his first OHL season.

“The way I played at minicamp gave me some confidence to know I can fit in at the OHL level," he said. "There’s still plenty of work to be done, and I’ll be working on that over the summer. I’ll be skating a couple of times a week to stay in shape and I’ll be working out with a trainer four or five times a week too.”

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