Patrick Fellows comments were appropriate in more ways the Erie Otters forward realized on Friday night.
“We have the team to (win) this year and we’re like a big family,” said the third-year, 19-year-old from Mississauga. “This has just been a really cool experience so far playing for the Memorial Cup.”
Fellows’ familial bond with his Otters teammates is obvious and it was a point of conversation by Erie head coach Kris Knoblauch after Friday’s win that earned his team a spot in Sunday’s final.
“Christian Girhiny and Patrick Fellows are probably best friends on the team,” said their coach. “They’re roommates and sometimes with that connection you get that chemistry because they are two guys that want to do well for each other and do the little things.”
“For spending time in the offensive zone against Saint John on Friday, I think they were our strongest line.”
Then there is Fellows’ actual family. His father, Ron, is a Canadian motor racing legend across a whole spectrum of categories and his six NASCAR series wins still stands as a record for a non-American driver.
Other than dad being a rock star that’s about as good as it gets, right coach?
“Yep, it’s special…We have some pretty good (personal) stories on our team,” said Knoblauch, who was also referring to Cameron Lizotte, who designs his own clothes.
Ron Fellows, who was born in Windsor when his father was employed in town as an Anglican minister, was soaking up the experience watching his son reap the rewards that extended back to his time in minor hockey.
“The experience from time with the Mississauga Rebels and getting drafted by Erie,” said Ron Fellows, “and now to be just 60 minutes away from the Memorial Cup, is just great to see.”
Championship teams are not built on storylines alone, of course. The Otters have worked themselves into winning their first Mastercard Memorial Cup by having both their stars and lesser lights – Fellows and Lizotte among them – step up.
“Your top players have to be your top players but when you look at our scoring our top players have been pretty good,” said Knoblauch. “Our third and fourth line have just been put together at this tournament. I kind of question myself why I didn’t put them together sooner but Christian Girhiny, Patrick Fellows and Kyle Pettit…I don’t think we’ve ever had them together but it has been working really well.”
Ron Fellows, though passionate about hockey as a fan, was clear that he was no expert to discuss the ins-and-outs of strategy on the ice. His role this week is being a supportive and proud parent but he did offer an interesting nugget that applied to his son and some of the other Otters depth players.
“In a race car, the driver is the quarterback,” he said, “but there are many members of the team.”
Patrick Fellows is now in his third year in Erie and has had to scratch and claw for every scrap of playing time on one of the Canadian Hockey League’s most talent-laden teams. A seventh-round pick (123rd overall) in the OHL Priority Selection four years ago, just cracking such a roster was quite an accomplishment.
Now, after a lifetime of watching his dad put trophies on the family mantle from the racetrack, Fellows is one victory away from winning the Memorial Cup.
“He’s really supported me and he loves to watch us. He’s done whatever he can do to come see me play – taken private planes to sneak away from work to watch me play,” said Fellows. “It’s also so cool to play in the Memorial Cup in Windsor because he was born here.”
Ron Fellows was effusive in his praise of the parental experience.
“We’ve been fortunate to be able to see hockey played in every OHL city,” said Ron Fellows. “It’s quite an experience to be able to see, as a season-ticket holder of the Toronto Maple Leafs too, the passion of major junior hockey fans, is quite unique.”
Another theme that Patrick Fellows represents is late-drafted and undrafted players rising to the occasion. The best example is Alex DeBrincat, who picked up the CHL’s Player of the Year award on Saturday after winning the Red Tilson Award earlier this month. DeBrincat was an undrafted player but has blossomed in to a star player in Erie.
Fellows’ situation is different. He says that there is a certain dynamic playing behind such talented forwards. Despite the compliments from his coach and the opportunity to play on an OHL championship team, does Fellows sometimes wonder what it would be like playing a bigger role?
Sure, but he also wouldn’t trade his situation for anything.
“I wasn’t even sure if I was even going to make the team out of tryouts (in 2014),” he said. “I was even prepared to play Junior A. But they kept me on and I played fourth line my first year.
“I got drafted by a great team and organization and I feel very blessed for that to happen to me. But yes, sometimes it can be tough when everybody above you (on the forward depth chart) is a signed NHL prospect. I probably could have scored more points playing somewhere else but I love being with Erie.”
And don’t think that Patrick Fellows doesn’t remind his Dad that he will now always have hockey bragging rights over his father.
“He’s a different athlete. Growing up, I chose hockey over racing and he always told me that hockey was his first love but then he realized he wasn’t any good at it,” his son said with a laugh.