It was a packed press conference with cameras and tape recorders rolling as the Saginaw Spirit confirmed the signing of its first round pick from the 2017 Ontario Hockey League draft.
Sault Ste. Marie product Nick Porco was front and centre and handled questions from a media mob with relative ease and comfort after formally inking the OHL’s standard player agreement on Tuesday.
The 6-foot, 160 pound left winger was Saginaw’s prize catch with the fourth overall pick at the April 8 OHL minor midget draft.
Saginaw general manager Dave Drinkill spoke at length about Porco and what he means to the Spirit, which already boasts some of the best young talent in the OHL.
“His coach-ability and dedication to hockey really stand out,” Drinkill said in a televised interview. “Nicholas is a big building block in this organization’s foundation as we continue to build through the draft. We want character players on our team who want to be a part of what we are trying to do in Saginaw and Nicholas certainly fits what we look for in a player.”
Porco is the reigning player-of-the-year in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. While playing for the minor midget Vaughan Kings in 2016-2017, Porco had 42 goals, 49 assists, 91 points in 65 games, regular season, playoffs and tournaments included.
In a televised interview at the press conference in Saginaw, Porco said he realizes that as a first-round pick, the Spirit has high expectations for him.
“I can reach those expectations with hard work,” Porco said evenly. “I am excited to get going as a member of the Saginaw Spirit. “They put a high emphasis on player development and I want to do what I can to help the Spirit get back into the playoffs. I look forward to the bright future ahead for this team.”
Porco officially joins a Spirit squad that some OHL pundits feel is clearly on the rise.
Under aforementioned second-year GM Drinkill and first-year head coach Spencer Carbery, Saginaw opted for a full-out youth movement in 2016-2017, dealing off veteran players for younger skaters and a bushel of draft picks.
Still, the Spirit challenged for a Western Conference playoff spot until the latter portion of the regular-season schedule only to finish in ninth place, albeit with a respectable point total of 63.
Indeed, the 63 points that Saginaw put up were more than three teams who made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference — Sudbury Wolves, Ottawa 67’s and Niagara IceDogs — managed.
Looking ahead, Porco will be at the Spirit’s annual development camp on May 13-14 in Saginaw with a group of young prospects that includes fellow Sault Ste. Marie product Camaryn Baber.
Baber, as a member of the Soo Greyhounds of the Great North Midget Hockey League, was the first player from under the Northern Ontario Hockey Association umbrella to be selected when Saginaw snagged him in the third round, 57th overall, at the April 8 OHL minor midget draft.
A fearless, relentless forward, the 5-foot-9, 163-pound Baber was the NOHA’s minor midget player-of-the-year for the 2016-2017 season after netting 32 goals, 30 assists, 62 points in 32 regular-season games — while racking up 99 minutes in penalties for the Soo. He then added 5 goals, 2 assists, 7 points in 6 playoff matches.