Joey Maziarz of the North York Rangers is the 2018-19 recipient of the Defenceman of the Year award in the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL).
The awards are voted on by a panel of OJHL general managers and media members who cover the league.
In his third year with the Rangers, Maziarz had a breakout season netting 54 points (13 goals/41 assists) in 53 games. His previous seasonal point totals were 24 and 19. The Waterloo resident was named to the OJHL All-Prospect second team in 2016-17 and played for Team Canada East at the 2017 World Jr. A Challenge.
NCAA coaches and recruiters took notice, especially at the Eastern Canada Cup and World Jr. A Challenge. Maziarz will join Rangers teammates Ashton Stockie and Dante Spagnuoulo at Mercyhurst University in Erie, PA next fall. The Lakers hockey program heavily recruits talent out of The OJ. Maziarz and Stockie, from Stratford, carpool to Rangers games and practices.
Maziarz played minor hockey with the bantam Toronto Jr. Canadiens, minor midget Vaughan Kings and the midget Toronto Marlboros, all in the GTHL.
All 20 teams passed on Maziarz in the 2015 Ontario Hockey League draft. Disappointed but unfazed, Maziaz soldiered on.
“No rush,” is his catch phrase. He should get it on a tattoo.
“You look in the NHL and there are so many guys who have made it through various other junior leagues,” he said. “It opened my eyes to the college route. I didn’t know that much about it. It really was the biggest blessing I could ever have. (Not being drafted) forced my hand to look at other options. I’ve always been a school guy and the more I researched it the more I fell in love with college hockey.”
Maziarz, who is 5-foot-11, styles his game after Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston’s Tory Krug, a pair of smallish defencemen with offensive flair whose route to the NHL went through the Jr. A ranks and Michigan State University
“I’ve kind of played the same game growing up,” Maziarz said. “I’ve always been a bit undersized but this year I’ve been focusing on advancing the puck as fast as I can. I think one of my skills is moving the puck out of our defensive zone. That way I don’t actually have to play that much defence.
“That’s been my goal for the last two years, to get really good at getting the puck in the forwards’ hands and helping them out up ice, beating my guy up there and being an option. Just getting the puck in their hands and letting them do the work because that’s what they’re there for.”
The North York coaching staff has even put a label on his play.
“Maz has really taken that next step this season for us,” said Rangers Head Coach Geoff Schomogyi. “He has been playing with so much confidence and as a result you have seen his point production increase.
“His ability to make plays in tight areas and defend is tops in the league. We often joke about Maz being a ‘one-man breakout’ with his ability to skate pucks out of our zone when we are in trouble.”
Princeton and Clarkson also showed interest but Mercyhurst, in Erie, PA, made the first offer.
“I think it will be a perfect fit for me,” Maziarz said. “It’s a lot like North York, in that they believe that if the team succeeds the players will succeed. It’s all about team success.”
Maziarz attends Wilfrid Laurier University part-time, knocking off electives ahead of stepping on the Mercyhurst campus in September. Just as his Rangers are knocking off opponents in the OJHL playoffs. Winners of eight straight games, they eliminated the Toronto Jr. Canadiens in five games in the opening round, then swept the St. Michael’s Buzzers to win the OJHL South Division banner. The Rangers await the winner of the East final, led 2-1 by the Whitby Fury over the Wellington Dukes.
Maziarz and other OJHL trophy winners will be honoured at a ceremony during the OJHL championship series.