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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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When Phil Tomasino received an invitation to the Nashville Predators summer training camp, it came with accommodation.​ The team had arranged for their 2019 first round pick to live with defenceman Ryan Ellis.
 
"To learn from him and see how he treats his body, preps for practices, the way he does everything, that was just an awesome experience," the 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., said. "And to get on the ice and skate with guys like [Roman] Josi and [Filip] Forsberg and see how incredible they are and how much it takes to reach that level, it was an awesome experience."
 
After racking up 100 points in 62 Ontario Hockey League games last season, the Oshawa Generals centre is knocking on the door of the NHL. Tomasino didn't crack the Predators bubble roster, but the chance to see Ellis up close helped accelerate his development. 
 
What stood out the most?
 
"The amount of time he takes stretching," Tomasino observed. "The main thing you see from juniors to the pros is just the way guys treat their bodies and the extra time when you come home. It's taking that extra half an hour to stretch and stuff like that to keep your body loose. That was huge and I have continued to do that since I got home."
 
Tomasino has also continued to skate with Ellis, a native of nearby Hamilton, since returning home and the pair have talked "a little bit" about the World Juniors. Ellis played in the tournament three times winning gold in 2009 and then consecutive silver medals. He served as Canada’s captain at the 2011 event.
 
Tomasino is one of 46 players heading to Red Deer, Alta., next week to take part in Hockey Canada's selection camp. The 6-foot, 183-pound forward spoke with TSN this week via Zoom. He outlined what he's been working on during the off-season and revealed why he uses a longer stick than most forwards. Tomasino also explained why New York Islander Mathew Barzal is his NHL role model.
 
The following is an edited transcript of the conversation. 
 
What have you focused on during the lengthy off-season? 
 
"I feel like I'm a pretty good skater, but with some of the extra time I've wanted to get stronger and more explosive and the main thing has been working on my first three steps. When you play against pro guys in the NHL, they're so fast off the start so I wanted to work on that and I think it's been a productive summer."
 
How do you work on that? 
 
"Doing different kinds of workouts. So, maybe more reps and less weight. Obviously, there are certain drills on the ice that help you work on those first few steps. Little differences have made a big difference."
 
What can you bring to Team Canada at the World Juniors?
 
"Everything. I can be a guy depended on in every situation. I'm a pretty offensive guy, but I've worked on my defensive game. I want to be a guy who can score, but you can also count on to win faceoffs in the last minute or defend ... I want to be a big part of this team."

Did you watch much of last year's tournament? What did you pick up from that team? 
 
"I watched most of it. I was teammates with Akil Thomas and I was cheering him on and that was an awesome moment he had scoring the game-wining goal in the final. And just to see the fans, even though it was overseas, how many fans were there and how passionate they were about their team, it's awesome. There won't be fans this year but people are still going to be watching from home and cheering you on. You just take so much pride in playing for Team Canada and you go out there and you have to win a gold medal not only for yourself, but for everyone supporting you."
 
Did you have a conversation with Thomas about the experience? Did he pass on any advice?​
 
"He said, 'Just enjoy the moment.' He had a pretty good one. That's the biggest dream as a kid is scoring the game-wining goal in the World Junior finals. That was an awesome experience for him and it's nice to see a guy who was on your team be there. Now, hopefully it's my turn to be in that situation so I'm looking forward to it. He gave me a lot of advice throughout my career and it was awesome to see that happen for him." 
 

 
 
With Niagara retooling both you and Thomas were traded last season. Oshawa actually traded a whopping nine draft picks for you. What was it like to hear that initially? 
 
"I actually didn't know. I got traded the day before a game in Windsor so I was in Niagara and we had to drive to Windsor. It was like a four-hour drive. I got to Windsor that night and then I found out it was nine picks, which is definitely a lot. I didn't expect it to be that much. It was an awesome trade for myself ... A lot of credit to Niagara, they did so much for me, but to be on an Oshawa team, a first-class organization like that, was just an incredible experience and I really reached that next level with Oshawa." 
 
You certainly held up your end of the bargain with 43 points in 26 games with Oshawa. What were you most proud of about your season? 
 
"How easy it was to make that transition after I got traded. I thought it'd be really hard after being with the same team for my whole career and finally getting trade. Everyone involved from the staff to the players to everyone in Oshawa made it so easy for me. And, obviously, I look at points a bit, but that’s not the main thing. We wanted to win an OHL championship and we weren't able to do that with the playoffs getting cancelled, but we felt we were a pretty good team and had a chance."
 
 ​
 
Where did you improve the most from game No. 1 to the last game? 
 
"Strength. I was not getting knocked off the puck as easy and was able to use the body more and taking hits to make a play. My defensive game has come a long way as well. Every aspect of my game has improved, but overall it's just my strength and with the summer I've improved it even more."
 
Your hands seem very close together on the stick when you carry the puck, how did that develop?
 
"I try to put pucks in places where it's hard for defenders to reach and it's easier when your hands are a little closer together. I feel like my skating with the puck is one of my best attributes in my game and it's been my game style since I was young so just kind of developed over time. I use a pretty long stick for my height." 
 
How long is your stick? 
 
"It comes up around my lips and for a forward they tend to be around the chin area so maybe mine is an inch or two longer, but nothing crazy. I've just used a long stick since I was a kid and found it helped my shot a lot with being able to pull it in, especially when I got older. I was able to maintain my stick-handling ability with the longer stick so it's an advantage that maybe I have over some guys."
 
Who do you model your game after and why? 
 
"Mathew Barzal. He's so smooth with the puck and makes plays. He's great defensively and an all-around player as well so he's kind of the guy I try to be like ... I watched almost every Islanders game this year and seeing the way he skates, the way he moves the puck, I see a little bit of myself in him. Hopefully, I get the chance to be as good as him one day."
 
Did you have a favourite Barzal play from last season? 
 
"He makes so many so I can't even think of one. It's just the way he's so smooth even with the puck and the way he turns. The way he's able to skate by guys up the ice, he's probably the best in the League at it other than probably [Connor] McDavid. He's incredible and such a smooth skater ... He's an incredible all-around player. You watch him on the back check and he's always stripping guys and stuff like that so just a great player and I love watching him."
 
What do you make of the possibility the OHL may return without body checking? 
 
"It'd be tough. I mean, ever since minor bantam or minor peewee we've had hitting so it's been a while. At the same time, everyone wants to play and is dying to play so I think you have to look at it both ways. Obviously, it'd suck without hitting, but it'd still be a good opportunity to play hockey games ... my main goal is to be in Nashville and I'm working towards that, but even an OHL without hitting, it's still hockey, right, and people want to play."
 
​ 
 
How much would it benefit the offensive guys? 
 
"I was thinking about that. I don't know what no body checking means. Like, does that mean no cross-checking in front of the net or along the boards? So, maybe we'll get some more clarification on that, but it'd definitely be a lot easier for forwards knowing that D aren't trying to kill you when you come up the ice. It'd​ be a little more like shinny hockey, but guys would definitely rather be playing that way instead of no hockey so you look at it both ways."