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Speers set for added leadership role

Blake Speers is entering his fourth season with the Soo Greyhounds and set for a larger role as a leader with the team after serving as captain last season
20160411 Erie Otters at Soo Greyhounds Game 3 KA 10
File Photo. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

It could be his final season in the Ontario Hockey League and Blake Speers hopes it’s a memorable one.

The Sault Ste. Marie native and captain of the Soo Greyhounds is entering his fourth year in the OHL and says he plans to continue to be a leader with the only OHL team he’s ever suited up for.

“The time has just flown by,” Speers said.

“I’m starting my fourth year here so obviously I’m going to be a veteran presence in the room along with a couple of other guys,” Speers also said. “The onus is going to be on us right from the get-go to set a tone and set a tempo that we want to bring all year long here.”

The 19-year-old posted career numbers last season with the Greyhounds, scoring 26 goals and 74 points in 68 games before adding six goals and 10 points in 12 playoff games.

“It could be my final season in the league this year and it’s really big just to be a really good leader and a positive influence for the younger guys in the room,” Speers said. “With my work in the off-season and how much effort I put in, the stats are going to come so I’m not going to put a huge emphasis on that. I’ve grown past that a little bit. I’m just looking to have a really successful team year this year and with team success, individual success will come for everyone.”

A draft pick of the New Jersey Devils, Speers said the expectations for the new season are exciting.

“We’re just going to try to feel things out,” Speers said of the pre-season expectations. “We feel internally that we have the ability to do something special. We know that we’ve got a lot of good players in that dressing room and we’ve got a lot of familiar faces. We’re excited about what we’re bring back and definitely excited to get things going.”

“As the year progresses, you’re going to see some pretty excellent players on our team,” Speers also said. “We’re going to have a lot of surprising players on our team that people aren’t necessarily going to know about.”

A playoff run last season that saw the Greyhounds beat the second-seeded Sarnia Sting in seven games in the first round before dropping a five-game series to the Erie Otters in round two gave the team some key experience coming into the news season.

“We even recognize that whole notion last year as we were going through it,” Speers said. “We knew that seven-game series, the experience was going to be huge for everyone on the team. It was everyone’s first seven-game series (going the full seven games). That was really exciting. That was the most fun I had playing hockey was in that series (against Sarnia). Going into the Erie series where we had already surprised everyone once, we knew we had nothing to lose. Nobody was giving us a chance against Erie so we just played for fun and played pretty well.

“It was huge for our young guys to see that they could step up in the league and they played pretty well,” Speers added. “That experience is going to be huge when we get to playoff time this year. Our confidence level and our ability when we’re down is through the roof. That’s really exciting. Nobody gets down on each other and we just keep pushing forward.”

Speers spoke of how in his three seasons in the league he has learned how “the ability to work in a team environment is absolutely huge.” Earning the respect of his teammates and “being a good guy” is as important as being a good player.

As a young player, some senior players helped Speers understand how important a good work ethic at the OHL level is as well.

“My whole motto since I became a Greyhound is to be an everyday guy and give the same effort every day,” Speers said. “That’s something that’s really helped me be successful in my career and hopefully it continues to bring me success.”

Speers and the rest of the Greyhounds returning players and prospects are set to open camp on Tuesday afternoon with the first scrimmages set for Wednesday.