by Warren Rappleyea
Left-winger Thomas Freel joined the Ottawa Junior Senators late last season in time for the team’s runs to both the Bogart and Fred Page Cup championships. He clearly made a mark and, as a result, Freel earned a regular spot in the OJS lineup this time around.
The local resident started the season strong, but slowed a bit as he played through a few minor injuries. Suiting up for 39 of the Junior Sens first 40 matches, Freel has contributed 18 goals, including game-winners against Cornwall and Brockville, to go with 11 assists. In addition, six of his tallies have come on the power play.
While his offensive play is noticeable to fans, GM and Head Coach Martin Dagenais is more impressed by the 18-year-old’s all-around ability.
“Thomas is a hard-working kid who can play any role on a hockey team,” Dagenais said. “Although he will end up with more than 20 goals in his rookie season, Thomas is also very reliable in the defensive zone. I honestly think he will become one of the league’s top forwards next season.”
Dagenais drafted Freel following the now 5-11, 170-pounder’s major bantam year. Under the tutelage of coaches like Steve Mallette, Stuart Battrick, and Tasso Vasilas, the youngster progressed through the Junior Senators’ system. Freel was one of the last cuts from the varsity squad a year ago. He spent the 2018-19 campaign playing for the Ottawa Canadians of the CCHL2, where he won the Rookie of the Year award, before his call-up at the end of the Canadians’ season.
Along the way, Freel’s shot has steadily improved, he’s gotten stronger and he’s learned to capitalize on his speed. He regularly challenges much bigger defenders in the corners and he’s not at all averse to battling for position in front of the opposition’s net.
“I really learned a lot as I progressed,” Freel explained. “This is a high-IQ organization. They expect you to be responsible at both ends of the ice. They look for players with a lot of hockey intelligence and they teach you to not only work hard, but to work smart.”
That means doing all the little things correctly and playing “OJS hockey.”
“You always want to make the smart play; the coaches stress that all the time,” Freel explained. “That’s doing things like being on the defensive side of the puck and putting your dump-ins in the right place. These are the kind of things people don’t always notice, but coaches and scouts notice them. Those are the things that win games.”
Success has been at the heart of the Ottawa organization for many years and Freel believes that winning breeds more winning.
“It’s so important for the new players coming in that the team has won before,” he said. “That winning culture is contagious. Every year you have to rebuild a bit because players graduate and the returning veterans pass that mentality down.”
While Freel is focused on helping the Junior Senators remain successful, getting noticed is part of the plan as he is hoping to eventually play for a NCAA Division I college. Freel is currently studying business and micro-economics part-time at Ottawa University, where his dad is a professor.
Away from the rink, he enjoys spending time with his family and playing NBA basketball—the video game variety—with his brother, Patrick, and teammate Brent Broaders, who billets with the Freels.