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Tuesday, Jul. 17, 2018
Billy Moskal listens and learns in London in year one
by Randy Pascal

Very few teenage hockey prospects enjoy a better preparation for the pathway to the professional ranks than do those who heed the words of wisdom of the well respected coach and management team of the London Knights.

Local product Billy Moskal is hoping to follow in the footsteps of the impressive alumni group of the OHL powerhouse. A second round pick in the 2016 OHL Entry Draft, Moskal wanted to crack the roster of the 2016-2017 Knights team more than anything else in the world, as he left northern Ontario for his first training camp last August.

But after suiting up in three of the Knights' first four regular season games, Moskal was sent down to spend the bulk of the 2016-2017 campaign with the St Mary's Lincolns of the GOJHL (Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League).

"At first, it was tough, it obviously sucked, but it turned out to be a blessing," said Moskal, working out recently at the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex. Though he might not have agreed with the decision of London team management, the local product endeavoured to make the best of it.

"I got a lot of minutes, I played a lot of good hockey, I developed a lot. It turned out great for me, I had a really good development year." Indeed he would. In 41 games with the Lincolns, Moskal recorded 23 goals and 29 assists, his 52 point total good enough for second place in team scoring, behind only Alessio Luciani, almost two years older.

His play would get noticed league wide, selected as the GOJHL Western Conference Rookie of the Year. The Knights, meanwhile, maintained a steady eye on their 2016 second round pick, calling him up for 13 appearances in the OHL.

"I would practice four times a week with London," explained Moskal. "I would practice with St Mary's once a week, and then play the games." The tried and true method of the OHL's most successful franchise over the course of the past 10-15 years was paying dividends once again, allowing newcomers to junior hockey the chance to absorb the jump at a reasonable pace.

"What I really learned this year was all about the work ethic, what it takes to succeed at that level," said Moskal. "You have to put in work every day. It was kind of a shock, a slap in the face. You see the guys who are doing really well, and that's what they're doing, so you want to take after them."

Sure, one hears constantly about how the players are bigger, stronger and faster, how everything just happens so much more quickly than at any other age bracket for newcomers to the Ontario Hockey League. Yet there is so much more to it than just that.

"I always found in midget hockey or minor hockey, if you're good, you can take the puck and do pretty much whatever you want," said Moskal. "But everyone here is at that level. You have to learn to do the small things, gain the small advantages that make a huge difference."

And then there are the more subtle adjustments that are needed, both on and off the ice, dealing with being away from home, understanding the self-discipline that is needed to properly prepare for the rigours of junior hockey.

Not to mention the brand new experience that is playing in a home arena that is about as close as one can come to a pro hockey environment while still lacing up the skates in the OHL. "Playing in London was an experience, with the crowd, something I had to get used to," said Moskal.

"It's almost distracting at first, with lights everywhere and all those people." Not that he would mind having to deal with the uniqueness of the Budweiser Gardens for 34 home regular season games in 2017-2018. There is certainly reason to believe it could, perhaps should, happen.

"They told me to continue getting stronger, to keep working on my game," said Moskal of his end of year instructions. "What they told me is that it really will be wide open for me. We're losing a bunch of players. If I do well, I can step in and move up."

And as he has already learned, it never hurts to listen to a management team with a pretty good track record of success.

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