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Saginaw's Misa ready to follow in some exceptional footsteps


Michael Misa led the Mississauga Senators to the OHL Cup last season. 

"During big games I get more excited than nervous," the centre from Oakville, Ont. said. "You want to step on the ice and do the best you can do."

While facing the top under-16 AAA teams in Ontario, Misa produced 20 points in seven games to break the tournament scoring record previously held by Connor McDavid. 

Shortly after that MVP performance, Hockey Canada and the Ontario Hockey Federation granted Misa exceptional status, allowing him to play in the Ontario Hockey League at age 15. The Saginaw Spirit then made Misa the No. 1 pick in April's OHL priority selection.  

Misa is the sixth player to gain early entry to the OHL joining a list that includes John Tavares (2005), Aaron Ekblad (2011), McDavid (2012), Sean Day (2013) and Shane Wright (2019). Connor Bedard (2020) is the only player to be granted exceptional status in the Western Hockey League. Joe Veleno (2015) is the only player to receive the designation in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.   

"When I got the call that I got exceptional status a couple of them reached out," Misa said. "Pretty cool to be in a group with those guys, because they're all incredible and people I look up to. It's a pretty big deal."

In a conversation with TSN, Misa revealed the best advice he's received and reflected on his pre-season debut. He also explained why Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner is his role model. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.  

TSN: You've played a couple pre-season games. What has been your welcome-to-the-OHL moment so far? 

Misa: "Just seeing scrums on the ice more often. It's a lot more physical and just seeing, for example, one of my teammates that I grew up with get in a fight. You can tell everyone's growing up and it's really cool to see." 

TSN: The game on Sunday got really feisty. Do you get chirped a lot? Do you hear about being the youngest guy on the ice? 

Misa: "I just block it out. I don't really care about what anyone else has to say on the ice. I have to play my game and block that stuff out.

TSN: Is that easy for you? 

Misa: "It's something I've worked on. Knowing I got exceptional status, it's something I'll have to get better at as well. But, yeah, I just block it out, usually." 

TSN: How do you work on that? 

Misa: "Taking advice from older guys, because they've experienced a lot during their OHL seasons with getting chirped and stuff. And the best advice is to block it out." 

TSN: The other forwards to receive exceptional status in the OHL – Tavares (77 points in 65 games), McDavid (66 points in 63 games) and Wright (66 points in 58 games) – all averaged more than a point per game as a rookie. What do you think you can accomplish this season?

Misa: "Well, I haven't even started our actual regular season yet. I'm trying to take advice from my coach and the older guys and fit in the best I can for our team because it's a team game. I hope our team can be really successful this year." 

TSN: Among the other exceptional-status players, who has reached out? 

Misa: "Bedard, Wright and Tavares. They just congratulated me and said, 'If you need anything, let us know.' It's pretty incredible to experience that."

TSN: Have you spoken to them since? 

Misa: "I've skated with Shane a couple of times. He's a really good person off the ice as well. He's incredible on the ice and someone I look up to. It's pretty cool."  

TSN: What's the best advice you've received about dealing with this season?  

Misa: "Focus on yourself, because I'm a lot younger than [other players]. So, just focus on yourself." 

TSN: There's a lot of hype around you. Saginaw is using the slogan, "Don't 'Misa' Moment," to sell tickets and promote the season. When you hear that and see that on a billboard, what goes through your mind? 

Misa: "Oh, it's really cool to have Saginaw behind me like that. They treat me well here."   

TSN: How would you describe your game? 

Misa: "I play the game really fast. Obviously, there's so many things I can still work on and I'm pretty young so I'll continue to develop as a player and a person.”

TSN: What's the biggest strength of your game? 

Misa: "My playmaking abilities, but there's still room to improve there."

TSN: What's the No. 1 area you want to improve on? 

Misa: "Just get stronger. I think that will happen over the year. Our workouts are really good and we get treated well off the ice."

TSN: You're listed as 5-foot-11, 160 pounds. How do you think you'll hold up against bigger and older players when it comes to the physical side of the game? 

Misa: "I think I can hold my ground, because I've been playing with older guys for a while now. The OHL is a bit different because you're playing guys four years older, but I'll play my game and see what happens from there."

TSN: Who is your NHL role model?  

Misa: "I've always modelled my game after Mitch Marner. I think I'm pretty similar to him. He's pretty smart with the puck. I just try to use his decision-making [approach] on the ice." 

TSN: Have you seen him live? 

Misa: "I've been to a bunch of Leafs games and he's always super special on the ice. It's a great choice to model my game after him." 

TSN: What was your most memorable fan moment growing up?  

Misa: "I've always liked Toronto because I'm from Oakville. They did end up losing that series to Washington [in 2017], but it was when they came back to win that one game [Game 3] when [Auston] Matthews scored that goal, that little flick with his toe drag. That was pretty sick. (Smiles) Hopefully they can get to the second round coming up."

TSN: On Oct. 29, Luke Misa and the Mississauga Steelheads come to town. What will it be like to play your older brother? 

Misa: "It should be fun. We've talked about it already. It should be a good experience. We're both there to play our games. We’re not fighters. Whoever's team wins will be more happy." 

TSN: What was it like growing up together? 

Misa: "We both had really strong teams in minor hockey and we both fed off each other and were taking ideas from each other."