While most younger hockey players seem to wear a black or silver cage, or full clear face mask on their helmet, Adam Fantilli opts for a white cage.
"I get a lot of flak for that," the 15-year-old said with a grin. "It started in tyke hockey. When I was getting dressed, my dad told me that he used to wear a white cage and I go, 'Throw it on.' And, honestly, I don't want to change it. It's part of the look that I have and part of what makes me unique sometimes."
Fantilli stands out for a lot of reasons. The six-foot-two, 181-pound centre from Nobleton, Ont. is a dynamic blend of size, speed and skill. He produced 18 goals and 18 assists in 26 games with Kimball Union Academy while facing older players during the recently completed season.
"My team tried to change my cage this year while I was up in my dorm, they threw on a fishbowl," Fantilli recalls. "Even on my Instagram I get a lot of comments about it, but it's all in good fun."
Considering all his success so far, Fantilli sees no reason to change. And this isn't solely about style.
"I grew up thinking it blended into the ice," he explained. "I tried to go to a black cage for the Youth Olympics and the puck would get lost. I threw on an Oreo [design] and every time I moved my head quickly there would be flashes of black and I'd think it was a player. So, I think it's something I have to play with now. It's not a necessity, but it helps me feel comfortable."
Fantilli isn't afraid to chart a different path than his peers. He left the Toronto Junior Canadiens of the Greater Toronto Hockey League and followed his older brother, Luca, to a prep school in New Hampshire. He would've been the top pick in the recent Ontario Hockey League draft, but again he wanted to play alongside his brother this time with the Chicago Steel in the United States Hockey League.
Fantilli hopes the road he's on will eventually lead to him being the first pick in the 2023 National Hockey League draft.
"Ever since I figured out what the NHL draft was I wanted to be the No. 1 pick," he said. "I have a competitive drive where I don't want anyone to be better than me."
In conversation with #TSN, 15-year-old Adam Fantilli explains his process of joining the Chicago Steel for his development, his goal to be picked first in the 2023 #NHLDraft and being a big #NHLBruins fan: https://t.co/yRRGk5hQ1G #TSNHockey #DraftCentre pic.twitter.com/FHKaa8xcQO— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) June 12, 2020
Fantilli spoke to TSN this week via Zoom and explained what he likes about the Steel's possession-based system and why Nathan MacKinnon is his NHL role model. He also revealed why he cheers for the Boston Bruins much to the chagrin of some of his buddies. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
How did you feel about your season at Kimball Union Academy?
"It was a blast. I had a great time with the whole school experience. Prep school was one of the best experiences of my life and I thought I had a pretty good year to back it up."
Off the ice, what did you enjoy the most?
"The community and the school. I don't think I've ever seen anything like that. It's a real special place and anybody would have a great time there with how nice everybody is. When you first tour there you honestly think everyone is just overly nice and that's kind of weird, but that's just the kind of people they are."
What would you say is the best part of your game?
"Probably my skating. If you can't get to the spots on the ice then you can't score, can't produce, so I like to work on my skating as much as possible and make that the most dynamic part of my game."
Last Adam Fantilli clip of the day, but I love the speed he shows on this goal to wrap up the hat trick. Comes down the wing and wires one on goal before picking up his own rebound #2023NHLDraft #ChicagoSteel pic.twitter.com/EnoXaulzIC— Brandon Holmes (@BHolmes_Hockey) March 25, 2020
Why was Chicago and the USHL the right place for you to play next season?
"I get another year to play with my brother. It's going to be something special and I get to keep all my options open for another year."
How would you describe the experience of playing with your brother?
"People who have siblings, especially brothers, they know when you play mini-sticks in the basement as kids [it’s fun so] it's basically doing that, but on a higher stage."
What was the sibling rivalry like growing up?
"I always wanted to hang out with Luca's friends and try and be the best among guys two years older than me. I guess that's what drove most of our competitive nature."
What was he like? Did he take it easy on you at all?
"Whenever we had friends over he'd put me in net and let them absolutely rip on me (smile). It was a seniority thing. Just had to take it."
The Steel have had a lot of success playing a possession-based system. Watching some of the highlights, when they get cycling in the offensive zone it's almost like position-less hockey. What intrigues you about that?
"It's a new way of getting players to play. I don't think there's anyone in the USHL that plays like them and I don't think there's anyone in the USHL who develops players like them and that's what ultimately brought me towards my decision."
What are your impressions of Steel general manager Ryan Hardy?
"He's a stand-up guy. He was there in Lausanne, Switzerland [at the Youth Olympics] and he hung out with my family quite a bit and really allowed the family to get a feel with him. I only have great things to say about him."
Are you looking forward to living in Chicago?
"I've only been to Chicago once and I was like 10-years-old so I don't really remember it. I love traveling throughout the States and getting the chance to go watch some Blackhawks games, some Bears games and to be submerged in the culture there will just be amazing."
You're taking a different route than most Canadian top prospects, who do you lean on for advice?
"Really what it boils down to is it's just my family, me and my brother and my parents. We all sit around the kitchen table and that's where we bang out most of our decisions ... It's probably about a week-long process for every decision that we make and I don't think we've made a wrong decision so far."
How do you handle the hype and pressure that will only build in the coming years?
"It comes with a lot of pressures, but I have a really good group of people around me and they help me stay grounded and keep my head small. It's like anything else, you just have to deal with it, because it's part of the game."
This goal from the best 04 on the planet not named Savoie or Wright is mesmerizing. Adam Fantilli folks. pic.twitter.com/foiS3YuhhU— Wagon Hockey (@WagonHockey) October 25, 2019
Who is your NHL role model?
"I'd like to say Nathan MacKinnon, but if Nathan MacKinnon was a little more physical. I like to throw my body around a little bit more, but that's the style I like to model my game after."
What do you like about MacKinnon in particular?
"From everything I've heard and all the people I talk to, he's a competitor. He loves to win. He just has that approach to the game where it's like that Michael Jordan mentality where you got to win. And all the aspects of his game, the shooting, the skating, he's an absolute workhorse and I love the way he plays."
I watched an interview you did when you were 12 and you said you were a Boston Bruins fan despite growing up in Ontario. What's that all about?
"A lot of Leafs fans around the GTA aren't big fans of me (smile) but I grew up in a Boston culture, because my dad was a big Bruins guy. Game 7s are all that we need."
How did your dad become a Bruins fan?
"When he grew up watching hockey, his dad was a big Montreal Canadiens fan so naturally he started liking the Canadiens. But then once he started watching and the Bruins went into the rock'em sock'em style of play, he started loving it. So, I don't think I've ever liked a team other than the Bruins. I was sort of brainwashed since Day 1 and never strayed."