Canada's Boy Wonder
By Jim Iovino, Ace Reporter
Like a lot of Canadian boys and girls his age, 13-year-old Dane Dainard dreams of one day representing his country as a member of Team Canada's Olympic ice hockey team. But due to a strong work ethic, an advanced physical stature and an insatiable desire to achieve, Dane is a lot closer to his dreams than most of his peers.
When Dane left his home in Whitby, Ont., in September to attend school at the Hockey Training Institute (HTI) and join the Shelburne Wolves, a Tier II Junior A team in the Metro Junior Hockey League, he became the youngest person ever to play hockey at the junior level.
Dane was just 12 at the time. His teammates' ages ranged from 17 to 21.
"We were very cautious to have a 12 or 13 year old play at that level," said Brian Anderson, managing director of HTI. "He's incredible in a sense that he's playing at a junior level and he's playing with 16-year-olds to 20-year-olds, and he's not out of place."
Although Dane hasn't seen much playing time this season, just making it to Junior A hockey, where he plays against kids who are eight or nine years older than he is, is quite an accomplishment in itself. And the decision to leave friends and family to go away to school and play hockey is a tough one for players of all ages, especially for someone as young as Dane. But both Dane and his father, Bob Dainard, feel comfortable with their decisions.
"I had to move away if I want to make my dreams come true," Dane said. "I have been away for six months now. I see my family when I can and I call home to keep in touch. The school staff help me and my coaches talk to me to make sure I am OK."
Just because Dane has left home to play hockey doesn't mean he has given up on school. Dane should be in eighth grade, but because he's at HTI he's taking advanced ninth grade classes. Even if he skipped a grade at his old school he still wouldn't be at the level he's at at HTI. Bob said the academic standard at HTI is geared to prepare boys to enter universities on hockey scholarships if they are not OHL (or pro) material.
"The schooling is a private school setting and the education received is the reason we decided to let Dane leave home and play and learn," Bob said. "One without the other and Dane would not be there."
Dane is put through a rigorous schedule at HTI -- four hours of hockey and eight hours of school per day. He gets up at 5:45 and is on the ice by 7:00 for close to three hours of practice. After school it's back on the ice again to practice with the team. Then it's lights out at 10:30 so he can get sleep before the cycle begins again.
Dane is able to compete at the advanced age level on the ice for several reasons -- he has good size, skills and attitude.
Considering that Dane isn't the same size as an average 13 year old, it might be easier to imagine him playing hockey with players up to eight years older than him. He's listed at 5' 11', 178 lbs., and, according to Bob, Dane "continues to grow like a weed." It's Dane's size that allowed him to work his way up the hockey ladder so quickly. Dane began playing organized hockey in Whitby at the age of six and soon became one of the league's top scorers. He then went on to the Metro Toronto Hockey League where he continued to excel. And Dane was growing all the while.
But while Dane's physical stature and skill allowed him to score at a goal-a-game pace, that same growing body of his began hurting him at the same time. Dane developed Osgoode-Schlatter's Disease around age 8. Osgoode-Schlatter's Disease is a condition found in young people (usually ages 11 to 16) where a pain is felt in the knee due to some bones in the leg growing faster than others. Dane struggled to cope with the disease for two years; it affected his speed and overall ability to play.
Dane Dainard in Game Action
Despite the setback, Dane continued to play hockey and play it well. He first started competing with older players at the age of 10 in the Metro Toronto Hockey League. The 12-year-old Pee Wee league he joined was the first league in which kids were allowed to use body contact, but that didn't hinder Dane's game at all. He adapted to the physical aspect very quickly, was eventually named team captain and went on to score 63 goals and 67 assists.
Because of his size, Dane fits in quite well with his teammates and opponents. Dane said at first his teammates didn't realize how old he was when he first arrived in Shelburne. "(When they found out) they were amazed and would give me compliments," he said.
"He's quite enormous for his age," Anderson said. "It certainly helps him and in the hockey world it (size) is considered a premium. Physically, he doesn't have a problem. He's a big boy, there's no doubt about it."
But if a hockey player's game was based on size alone, the Pittsburgh Penguins' Francois Leroux would be one of the NHL's best. Of course, Leroux is far from le mieux, so to be a great player, you have to have the right mix of size, skill and a great all-around hockey sense. Anderson, who spent three years at St. Michael's hockey club starting when he was 14, believes Dane might one day turn out to be a complete package.
"He has a lot of skill," Anderson said. "He has the innate ability to be at the right place at the right time like a Hull or Gretzky. It's definitely there. He has the hands, the shot and the passing ability. He seems to have the right ingredients of size and skill."
Dane likes to emulate the play of a power forward -- some of his favorite players are Eric Lindros and Wendel Clark. He is a strong skater and has a better than average shot. Dane also likes a physical game.
"The game and players are really fast and strong, but it makes me work harder," he said. "At first, I was two steps behind. Now I am right there and keeping up. The next step is to move ahead. I think I will do it soon."
One problem right now for Dane is a lack of playing time. But Anderson said he doesn't want to rush Dane in any way because he wants Dane to not only watch and learn, but also keep a good mental attitude about the game and his time at HTI. Dane's saftey and well-being is Anderson's top priority.
"The first few games he dressed, he probably didn't see the ice," Anderson said. "(We wanted him to) watch the flow on the ice and get an idea of the speed."
Anderson said that by the third or fourth game, Dane received just a few shifts, perhaps just one or two a period.
"Personally, I don't think we should rush it," Anderson said. "If he plays next year on a full-time basis, he's looking at probably four or five years of playing at that level. I spent three years at St. Michael's. In my third year I had pretty well done it all there and I was pretty flat."
But when Dane has received ice time, both he and Anderson agree that he's made the most of it.
Snap Shots *Last season Dane played in a World Pee-Wee tournament. An opposing coach from a Russian team was so impressed with Dane's play, he asked Dane to play in the former Soviet Union this season.
* Dane has been interviewed several times by reporters who also interviewed Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros when they were Dane's age. Says Dane: "The reporters said I was much nicer and to stay that way."
* Dane was born on Dec. 12, 1983. If you take the day or month Dane was born (12) and add it to the year he was born (83), you'll get Dane's uniform number, No. 95.
* And yes, Dane has a fan club. If anyone would like information about it, send E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I do not play a lot because I am a rookie, but I get at least one good chance to score every game I have played in," Dane said. "Most players get none, so this is good and is encouraging to me."
And if Dane continues to grow as a person and a player, there's no telling how far his star might rise in the world of ice hockey. From Shelburne, he could be drafted to play in the OHL. Bob indicated that several teams have already scouted him. Or maybe he will move on to a U.S. collegiate team. Who knows? The NHL might even come calling when Dane turns 18.
"I think he's on a real mission," Anderson said. "He's able to keep any kind of distraction from getting to him. He has his act together mentally. He knows what he wants to do and he's been reaching his goals."
And perhaps one day Dane will be able to reach his ultimate goal of proudly wearing the red and white Team Canada jersey in the Olympic games.
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