by Tim Morris
Connor Shibley knows that it takes more than talent to play at the highest levels of junior hockey from playing for the Ottawa Junior Senators last year.
“It’s the day-to-day habits I learned,” recalled the Juniors Sens goalie. “It’s the level of focus you need to compete every day, taking a step forward each day. It’s a mindset, it’s in the gym, getting proper rest and nutrition.”
In other words, it’s the equivalent of professionalism.
Shibley is someone who never took talent alone for granted. From the start of his hockey career he was a student of the game and of his position between the pipes; embracing all of the off-ice activities from the gym to film study that could potentially give him an edge.
This dedication applies to this past summer. Shibley went back to the gym working harder than ever to improve his conditioning and better his game after a season in which he helped Ottawa win the 2023 Bogart Cup as champions of the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL).
“I got stronger in the gym,” Shibley reported. “I beat my sprint time.”
Besides becoming stronger and faster, Shibley noted that he has more flexibility and quicker lateral movement, two things that are vital to a goaltender.
Shibley started the season with the New Jersey Hitmen and found himself missing his time with the Junior Senators. A call from Ottawa General Manager Stu Battrick changed all of that.
“Stu reached out to me,” said Shibley.
Battrick asked the 20-year-old native of Ontario if he was interested in rejoining the Ottawa side. The GM didn’t have to ask twice.
“I was happy to be back,” Shibley remarked.
Shibley was returning to a Junior Senators team in transition thanks to a big roster turnover from last year’s championship squad. In Shibley, Ottawa wasn’t just getting a dependable goalie, but someone who understands the team’s culture and expectations. In short, Battrick wanted the netminder’s experience and leadership to pass onto the newcomers.
“I can have a presence in the (locker) room,” Shibley said.
Those day-to-day habits that Shibley learned about last year, he is passing on to his new teammates. It’s being consistent every day in practice and what you do off the ice in preparation that is every bit as important as what you do in the game.
“Those (practice and off-ice preparations) are the important things,” Shibley explained.
It’s all that goes into creating Ottawa’s winning culture.
Shibley has done his job on the ice too. He’s a big reason that the Junior Senators have turned things around after an uncharacteristic slow start. Since rejoining the team he’s
4-3-2-1 with a 2.76 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and one shutout. In a Dec. 1 victory at Smiths Falls, Shibley held down the fort with 16 first-period saves and was named first star in what turned into a 2-1 Ottawa triumph.
Ottawa won its fourth successive Bogart Cup championship last spring, and for Shibley it is a memory that never fades.
“It’s the ultimate goal,” said Shibley of the Cup victory. “I still talk to the guys all the time. It’s (championship) memories you have for the rest of your life,” he added.
Shibley would like to repeat those memories with the 2023-24 Junior Sens.