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Cowan fuelled by critics as he aims to keep proving them wrong at Memorial Cup


SAGINAW, Mich. — Easton Cowan's big-game reputation has only grown this season, but he's had some added motivation pushing him to another level.

The star right-winger of the London Knights was drafted in the first round (28th overall) in last year's NHL draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, going higher than he was projected to go.

In his only full season with London, he tallied 53 points (20 goals, 33 assists) in 68 regular-season games in 2022-23. He added 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 20 post-season games as the Knights lost in the OHL finals.

"Last year, getting drafted, not many people believed in me," he said. "Everyone thought I was a bust, kind of a reach of a pick. I just took that personal, obviously I know a lot of people will be watching the big stage so I try to prove them wrong."

"I like playing on the big stage, it's more fun when (the games are) on TSN, there's more cameras and there's more scouts and everyone's watching you, … more of your family and friends tune in too," Cowan added.

The Knights will play in Sunday's Memorial Cup final against host Saginaw, which defeated WHL champion Moose Jaw 7-1 in Friday's semifinal.

Cowan helped London advance into the final with a major performance in Wednesday's 4-2 win over Saginaw in the round-robin finale. He scored the go-ahead goal with 1:25 left in the game and later added an empty-netter to help the Knights finish the preliminary round 3-0.

"It's ingrained in him to be a big-time performer at this time of the year," London head coach Dale Hunter said. "He wants to be the guy that makes the big play and gets it done both ends of the ice — defensively and offensively."

It was another feather in Cowan's cap in what's been an impressive season.

The 19-year-old became the sixth player in OHL history to win both the Red Tilson Trophy and Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as regular season and playoff MVP in the same season, joining Brad Boyes, Corey Perry, Justin Azevedo, Connor McDavid, and Mitch Marner.

He was tied for fifth in league scoring with 96 points (34 goals, 62 assists) in 54 regular-season games and was the OHL post-season scoring leader with 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) in 18 games. He collected 15 of those points in a four-game sweep of the Oshawa Generals in the OHL championship series.

"We're really proud of him," Hunter said. "We've seen him since he was a young kid, we knew him, he's from the London area.

"He just keeps getting better, he enjoys the game a lot, he has fun with it, he works hard. So that's what you ask from a player, that's why he's become such a great player."

Having fun is key for Cowan, from Mount Brydges, Ont., but handling pressure wasn't always easy for the 5-foot-10, 171-pound forward.

"I used to get kind of nervous last year before some games," he said. "And then eventually I just realized I shouldn't be nervous, it's just another game. You gotta have fun playing it.

"I felt like I've done a good job of that this year, just going into games not a lot of nerves. Playing my game and going into the game not thinking about much and just playing my hockey. It turns out good when I just focus on winning."

Consulting with Knights' mental health specialist Paulie O'Byrne and others contributed to this change.

"The Leafs got a lot of mental health guys," Cowan said. "We got one too in London, Paulie. I talk to him a bit and he's helped me out a lot. Just listening to what they've been saying has been helping me out a lot this year."

Cowan is now looking ahead to Sunday where his team has a chance to win its third Memorial Cup.

"This is the biggest stage we've played on all year so we're all excited for it," he said. "We know lots of people will be watching and we're ready for it.

"I'll definitely up my game even more."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2024.