By Darren Lum
Like the rest of the world living during a pandemic, Alex Little is in a holding pattern when it comes to fulfilling his dream of hockey ascension.
The former Haliburton Highlands Secondary School student and Red Hawks hockey player is not just waiting, but working to make the Ontario Hockey League’s North Bay Battalion team.
The 17-year-old from Minden was chosen in the 2020 under-18 OHL draft in the third round and drafted 41st overall by the Battalion.
Living in North Bay and attending West Ferris Secondary School, Little said the adjustment to life away from home has gone well, but the delay in starting the exhibition season and training camp has been challenging.
“It’s been a bit of a challenge to keep in shape because I’m used to practising and then playing games, but now with the practices I have to keep the mindset of stay in shape and keep my skills on ice up to par because I have to be ready whenever this season will start or whenever the opportunity to go to camp will be,” he said.
It’s been reported that the OHL announced on Sept. 17 training camps are scheduled to start Nov. 15 and exhibition play to begin close to a week after.
“Right now it’s a date, but, really, it’s up in the air for me,” he said.
Last season, the right-shot defenceman played for the North Bay Trappers, tallying 29 points (nine goals and 20 assists) in 38 games.
What has helped him with his preparation for the season is to see how the delay to the season can help him.
“I have the opportunity to make the team and just thinking right now this is a great opportunity to jump ahead of some people who aren’t taking advantage of this extra time to be prepared. So, knowing that I have some time to work harder and maybe jump ahead of some of those guys pushes me because I do want to make that team pretty badly,” he said.
With COVID-19 protocols, there haven’t been any team practices. It’s been up to Little.
The Grade 12 student is in the gym five times a week, lifting weights, performing plyometric exercises once a week and a spin class once a week after each six-hour school day. He also has on-ice training, which includes end-to-end skating and skills work, followed by a scrimmage for an hour and a half Tuesdays and Thursdays after school at the Memorial Gardens in North Bay.
The longer off-season has enabled the 5’11” player to gain close to 15 pounds of muscle.
This wasn’t just the result of weight training, but also from his diet including more whole and lean foods such as ground turkey meat and lean instead of regular ground beef to improve recovery from his workouts. He said part of the dramatic weight gain could be regaining what he lost after the hockey season and what was lost during the quarantine period.
Despite the gains, he also made efforts to adjust to his new body.
“I made sure when I was doing the weight lifting that I would still do the cardio stuff, and run and footwork [drills] so that I was training the weight as well as myself to get my feet and body working together before I gained all the weight,” he said.
A huge part of this working out was to maintain flexibility, which was addressed by regular stretching, foam rolling, and three yoga sessions he does on his own every week using YouTube videos.
Yoga, he said, is key.
“It’s definitely half the battle. That’s probably part of the reason that I can still move well after gaining weight because I’ve stretched and worked the muscles so it’s not just bulky and I’m not kind of stiff with my movements,” he said.
Rest and recovery is a major component to it all. He is in bed close to 10 a.m. each night so he can get at least eight hours of sleep.
Being away from home, he said, he misses friends and family most of all.
“You think about them back home, but you know that you’ll be back there one day and it makes the moments when you get back home a lot more special.”
Little plans to be home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Much of the credit for his adjustment to his new life in North Bay, he said, belongs to his billet family, the Wrays, with parents Shanna and Scott.
“The family has been amazing. They support me with everything. They have two boys so they know what it’s like to have another kid in the house,” he said. “To adjust, I just try to be myself because being myself they accept me for that and it makes it easy to fit in when you’re trying to be yourself and not someone else.”
He moved in with them on Sept. 7 and started attending West Ferris Secondary School the next day.
With more than 1,200 students, the school has almost three times more students than HHSS. However, he hasn’t noticed the size difference with COVID-19 rules keeping him with one group of students.
The Wray children have been great.
Little said the positive gains and the motivation to work out is traced back to the Wray sons, who are 14 and 17.
“It helps keep me motivated because there’s somebody there to push me and say even on days I don’t want to go to the gym they’ll say, ‘Hey, let’s go to the gym.’ It’s nice to have when you don’t have self-motivation. Just the extra people around you to keep pushing you,” he said.
His advice to other athletes waiting on seasons to start is to remember to enjoy the preparation.
“Just have fun, practising and working out and getting better. It will all pay off when the season starts and comes around,” he said. “That’s really what I’ve been trying to do.”