Talented Torontonian Ho-Sang an 'X Factor' for men's hockey team in Beijing

Team Canada forward Josh Ho-Sang lacks the draft pedigree of Owen Power (first overall) or Mason McTavish (third overall).  He's appeared in just 53 NHL games compared to captain Eric Staal (1,293) and David Desharnais (524).

Former 1st-round pick pairing skill with more patient approach

Josh Ho-Sang of the Toronto Marlies, seen here during pre-season action with the Toronto Maple Leafs in September, figures to be an important part of the Canadian men's hockey team playing on the top line with Eric Staal and Mason McTavish. (Jon Blacker/The Canadian Press)

Team Canada forward Josh Ho-Sang lacks the draft pedigree of Owen Power (first overall) or Mason McTavish (third overall). He's appeared in just 53 NHL games compared to captain Eric Staal (1,293) and David Desharnais (524).

But there's no denying Ho-Sang is an NHL-calibre talent. On good nights, the puck appears glued to his stick as he dances up the ice and embarrasses defenders who try to break up the play.

He has speed. He's a slick passer. He's a regular on the highlight reels. And he's arguably the Canadian men's hockey player with the most to gain from a stellar showing at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Ho-Sang is the X factor — the variable that could have the greatest impact on Canada's medal chances in the non-NHL men's Olympic hockey tournament.

The 26-year-old Toronto product is expected to play on the first line with McTavish and Staal Thursday when Canada opens the preliminary-round against Germany.

"I'm trying everything in my power to stay present and really embrace every single day with this group and this staff," said Ho-Sang, who has 11 goals and 20 points this season with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. "Because this is a moment that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

WATCH | Staal, Power lead Canada into the Olympics:

Eric Staal, Owen Power, ready to lead Canada into men's Olympic hockey tournament

6 months ago
Duration 3:01
Eric Staal, the captain of Canada's men's hockey team is set to lead the team in Beijing, with young phenom Owen Power also expected to have a big role on the ice.

"And it's fleeting. It goes by as quickly as it comes, and I don't want to blink."

The Olympic opportunity, for Ho-Sang, will likely include a spot on the No. 1 power-play unit for a Canadian side that struggled to score at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

"He's a guy that obviously has an incredible amount of skill and somebody that can get around the ice," Team Canada general manager Shane Doan said. "When you watch him move and you watch him handle the puck and do the things he can do, there's not a lot of people in the world that can do that."

Ho-Sang last played for Hockey Canada with Team Ontario at the 2013 World Under-17 World Hockey Challenge.  Amid allegations of selfish play and questionable work ethic, he later called it "insulting" that he didn't receive an invitation to development camps for the world under-18 tournament and world juniors.

His brazen self-confidence — and lack of a personal mute button — undoubtedly played a part in so many teams taking a pass at the 2014 NHL entry draft. The New York Islanders finally selected Ho-Sang, an under-16 Triple-A teammate of Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, 28th overall.

From there, Ho-Sang's reputation followed him to the NHL where he bounced between the Islanders and the minor leagues before playing nine games in 2020-21 for two teams in Sweden.

Last summer, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas offered Ho-Sang an NHL tryout, which then turned into a one-way contract with the Marlies.

"I feel very heard there," Ho-Sang said. "My opinion seems like it matters. And that inspires me to go do and be better on the ice, because I feel like I have a lot of stake in what's going on. I want our team to do well for my teammates and my coaches.

"And I think that that really inspires players when they feel connected to their organization rather than a piece of meat."

Ho-Sang practising patience

At present, Ho-Sang is working on becoming more of a "200-foot-player" committed to back-checking and puck management.

"I think my game has become a little more tame," Ho-Sang said. "I like to go all gas, all the time. That's just my nature when it comes down to it. I think to get to the next level, I need to be an efficient hockey player. You've got to learn when you need to live to fight another day.

WATCH | Power looking to capitalize on rare opportunity:

Canada's Owen Power relishing Olympic hockey opportunity

6 months ago
Duration 1:43
As a 19-year-old, Owen Power wasn't supposed to be at the Beijing Olympics. But with the NHL not at the Games, the former No. 1 overall pick is now a focal point of Team Canada.

"It's kind of like punting in football. There's a reason why teams don't go for it on fourth down all the time. Because you put yourself in a bad position when you try to risk it all."

That's true in football. True in hockey. And true in life, as Ho-Sang is discovering.

"Being a riverboat gambler is fun," he said. "But it's not conducive to winning consistently."

Ho-Sang, seen here during pre-season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, is taking a more patient approach to his game as of late. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In Beijing, Ho-Sang realizes the magnitude of the opportunity before him, and he has a plan to keep his emotions in check.

"I myself try to try my best to practise Buddhism," Ho-Sang said. "I have these prayer beads that I keep on me almost all the time. When I get anxious or I feel overwhelmed, I can just count the beads individually until I start to calm down.

"I think it's important that you have tools to deal with your anxiety and nerves. For me, it's a really nice outlet."

He's called "Buddha" by his fellow Marlies for a reason.

"Nicknames are good," he said. "Especially when they're being used by your teammates.

"It means that they care enough to give you a nickname."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vicki Hall

Freelance writer

Vicki has written about sports in Canada for more than 15 years for CBC Sports, Postmedia, the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal. She has covered five Olympic Games, 10 Grey Cup championships and one Stanley Cup Final. In 2015, Vicki won a National Newspaper Award for sports writing and is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

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