Columnist image
Mark Masters



Medicine Hat Tigers centre Cole Sillinger came in No. 11 on TSN's final draft rankings list. His dad, Mike, was picked 11th overall in 1989. 

"I always bug him," Cole said with a grin, "and say that when he was going through the draft the Europeans didn't get picked until the third and fourth rounds. I always tell him that 11th overall in his day is like 20th overall in my day. I always give it to him."

Cole says bragging rights will be on the line when the family gathers at the Rooftop Bar & Grill in Regina to watch the first round of the draft on Friday night. 

"If I happen to be picked at 11 that would be the Chicago Blackhawks, if they keep their pick, and they’re an Original Six team. My dad got drafted by Detroit, which is also an Original Six team, so there’s a coincidence there. But any team would be exciting." 

Mike is the only player in National Hockey League history to suit up for 12 different teams. So, there’s a decent chance Cole will be able to get some insight from his father wherever he lands. 

Mike always seemed to be in demand during his 17 seasons in the NHL and Cole is certainly in demand when it comes to this year’s draft. While playing on loan for the Sioux Falls Stampede last season, he potted 24 goals and added 22 assists in 31 games en route to being named the USHL's rookie of the year. 

During a conversation with TSN this week, Sillinger shared his favourite stories from growing up as the son of an NHLer. He also explained what makes him an “elite scorer.” The following is an edited transcript of the conversation. 

How did you hold up as the youngest of three brothers in the Sillinger household? 

"I did alright. I always got thrown in net. I was always the goalie and my brothers would just rip pucks at me. As I got older I got a little more mature and a little more physically strong, so that allowed me to hold my ground."

Did you ever think about becoming a goalie? 

"Honestly, I did a little bit when my dad was playing for the Islanders. Rick DiPietro was the young star and I remember him giving me a full set of goalie gear with R. DiPietro on one side and then on the other side C. Sillinger. It’s a cool story there. He tried to trick me into being a goalie, but thank God I didn't." 

Do you have a favourite memory from when your dad played?

"Just a couple things like that. DiPietro giving me the goalie pads. Mike Comrie was dating Hilary Duff and they would take us out for suppers. I remember I put Miroslav Satan’s jeans in the hot tub for $100, so that's a good story there." 

Who paid the $100? 

"I think Mark Streit, but I'm not too sure. I remember he gave it to me and my brothers." 

What's the best story you've heard about your dad?

"My dad was known for, after the game, everyone else is having a protein shake and my dad would crack a beer and put it in his ‘protein’ cup. I was actually interviewing with a team and they brought that up and it was pretty funny. That's a good story about what a clown he is."  

What's the No. 1 thing you've learned from your dad? 

"That you can control two things: your work ethic and attitude. If the situation is not so good or it's really good, it's all about your mindset and the amount of effort you put in to either reverse the situation or keep the situation going the way it’s going. And that mindset will earn you a lot of respect in the hockey world and in everyday life. So, that's kind of what I live by and try to do in my everyday life."

What stands out about your dad's career? 

"That he was super adaptable and super reliable. He never took anything for granted. Whatever opportunity was presented to him, whether it was a fourth-line centre or second-line PK guy, whatever it may be, he made the most of his opportunity. And he was always a good teammate. When I was young and went to hockey tournaments, everywhere we would go he would have ex-teammates calling him up and asking him to go out for suppers and I think that's super special."

What similarities do you have with him as a player? 

"He played a long time and to play a long time you have to have a real good hockey brain and see the ice really well and know how plays are developing. I believe that we have a similar quality in that sense."

How would you describe your style of play? 

"I'm an elite scorer, someone who likes to utilize my shot and my release all over the zone to expose the goalie and defenders. I'm a smart player who can execute plays in all three zones. I play with an edge. I play greasy. I'm not afraid to do the dirty work."

What makes your shot good?

"Just always being adaptable and able to shoot off both feet and shooting in stride and shooting when no one’s really expecting a shot."

You seem to be able to change the angle of your blade right before you shoot. How did you develop that? 

"Just a lot of practice and always wanting to score. I always have that goal-scorer’s mindset. I'm open to trying new things and learning from the best shooters. I watch a lot of video of guys like Auston Matthews and Nathan MacKinnon."

What do you notice when you watch Matthews? 

"I try to pick up on the timing of when he shoots the puck and when he enters the zone. Sometimes, he has that little pull shot and it's not released right away. Sometimes he hesitates an extra couple seconds and then will just flick the wrist and it just slings, so that's something I notice. It's not all timing or one motion. It's just being able to do a little fake or a little pull and then maybe a little hesitation and then firing it."

Where does the grease in your game come from? 

"I got two older brothers along with my dad, so we're a very competitive household. Whether it's in the gym or on the ice or on the golf course, we don't want to lose. On the ice, I'll do anything it takes to gain momentum for our team. If that involves taking a hit or giving a hit or winning a battle in the corner, I want to be the guy doing it." 

What did you take from the USHL experience? 

"The USHL is a different style of game than the Western Hockey League. It's older players and more of a chip-and-chase style, so a lot greasier and that's something I'll take is playing with that edge and not being afraid to play physical and use my strength." 

Who are your NHL role models? 

"I got a few. Bo Horvat, John Tavares and maybe even a little Logan Couture in there. If you mix all those qualities together, that's the kind of player I see myself as. I know Tavares in his prime was scoring 30, 40 goals in the National Hockey League. He’s got a real good shot, real good release and a real good hockey brain that allows him to get to the inside. With Horvat, I believe he’s got a similar skating stride as me. He’s a big frame and is real tough to get knocked off the puck. He’s never been the most explosive skater, but he's worked on it a ton and he’s one of the smoothest and most explosive skaters, in my opinion, on Vancouver. And with Couture, he plays the middle and the wing. So, those are three players I look up to."

What’s your focus this summer?

"My first-step quickness and explosiveness ... Skating is so valuable and it seems like every level you go up the game gets faster and faster. I'm a good skater. I’m a strong skater. I'm tough to get knocked off the puck and I can handle the puck at top speed, but it's just that first-step quickness I'm working on. MacKinnon or Johnny Gaudreau are the guys I really like to watch, because their first three steps are really explosive and they get to top speed like that (snaps fingers). And I want to clean up my stride and get a little smoother and efficient with my stride." 

On your Instagram page there's a picture of you with MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie from a few years back. Is there a story there? 

"Every Easter we go down to Arizona and have a family vacation and we usually go to Ray Whitney's house. My dad played with him and they're really good buddies and usually guys like Shane Doan and Josh Doan are there with their family, so we have a real good Easter supper. We know Len Barrie pretty well and he's usually there, so Tyson was down there and then I remember walking in one year and seeing Nathan MacKinnon and I’m like, 'Oh my God, this is going to be a week.' We got golf matches lined up with Mackinnon and Barrie and Luke Schenn was there. It was a real good week. I was 13, 14 years old at the time and it was something I will remember forever and something that was super special." 

What's one thing you took from being around MacKinnon?

"Just his competitive nature. He hated to lose. He hated even being down. I remember he had to chip the ball in from 50 yards away and from the desert and he chipped it in to push it to the next hole. Just little stories like that. He’s so competitive."