Brockville Braves Carleton Place Canadians Cornwall Colts Hawkesbury Hawks Kemptville 73s Navan Grads Nepean Raiders Ottawa Jr Senators Pembroke Lumber Kings Renfrew Wolves Rockland Nationals Smiths Falls Bears

OJS Player Profile: Thomas Freel

by Tim Morris

The Ottawa Junior Senators are in first place and forward Thomas Freel is having the most productive season of his career. But, what matters actually most to the 20-year-old Freel is that he is playing.

“Two seasons were affected [by the pandemic],” said Freel. “I’m glad the season is going on. It’s my last season, I’m motivated to finish my career as best as I can.”

Freel remarked that he knows how lucky he is to be playing at all this year; he thinks of those players who did not get to finish their junior hockey careers on the ice because of the pandemic that cancelled the 2019-20 playoffs and the 2020-21 season. Those thoughts have proven to be powerful motivators for Freel.

The Junior Senators are sitting atop the Yzerman Division of the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL) through 20 games with 33 points (16-3-0-1). Freel has been sparking the offense, averaging more than a point a game. He has tallied 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points.

The 6-0, 180-pounder remarked that he is a different player this year. Always comfortable around the net, Freel is carrying the puck more, attacking the goal and becoming more of a playmaker. That brings defensemen toward him enabling him to pass the puck in space to a teammate. Freel is on a pace to more than double his previous assists total.

“I’m much more confident carrying the puck,” he pointed out. “I’m expanding my game.”

He credits the improvement of his game to remaining active and working out on his own as well as with the team last winter. He also worked with a skating coach.

“I was lucky to be part of a group of guys that was very close,” said Freel. “We motivated each other to work out. We realized that this was a time to get a step ahead of those who weren’t working out.”

It paid off. That work and 10 games with the Campbellton Tigers of the Maritime Hockey League (13 points in those games, including five assists) have made Freel a more complete player.

“I’ve gotten a lot better, I’m stronger and skating better,” he noted. “I’m more confident on my edges.”

That confidence has enabled Freel to step into a leadership role.

“There were great leaders when I first joined the Junior Senators and now I’m in that position. I see a lot of young guys who are motivated to be successful, and we have a very solid dressing room. So I try to lead vocally and set the tone for the team.”

Freel’s parents, Mark and Stephanie, have been billeting Junior Senators since he has been with the team. This year defenseman David Mabey has been living with the family and it has been good for both Mabey and Freel because of the positions they play.

“Driving home we discuss the game, he gives me the defensive aspect and I give it from an offensive aspect,” Freel explained.

Despite his busy schedule, Freel makes the time to take several college courses, which helps him on the ice.

“That keeps you busy during the season, keeps your mind fresh,” he explained. “It helps you escape. If you’re not taking courses, all you think about all day is the game. It makes you overthink.”

As for the Junior Senators’ fast start this year, Freel pointed to many of the players who joined the team last year. Even though there was no season, the team practiced liked there was and most important, Freel noted, the new players learned the Ottawa system and its winning culture.

The results are speaking for themselves.

Photo: Nathan Pavao