Cape Breton Post
Ready for draft day
Sydney Mitsubishi Rush teammates Christmas, Pattengale top-ranked Cape Breton players for QMJHL Entry Draft
SYDNEY — Alexander Christmas and Preston Pattengale may play different positions on the ice, but this weekend they will have something in common aside from being friends.
The Sydney Mitsubishi Rush teammates will share the honour being the topranked Cape Breton-born players entering the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Entry Draft.
QMJHL Central Scouting has Christmas and Pattengale ranked between the sixth and eighth rounds of the draft, which are scheduled to take place on Saturday.
Although the two are proud to represent Cape Breton as the island's topranked players, Christmas and Pattengale admit they're not looking into the rankings too much.
“There's lots of great players around here,” said Christmas. “I'm happy to see my fellow teammates on the ranking list as well, but it's definitely an honour to be one of the top-ranked players on the island.”
Meanwhile, Pattengale echoed his island pride, but isn't overselling the ranking.
“It's always good to be rewarded for your hard work and it definitely feels good,” said Pattengale. “Nothing has happened yet — in terms of the draft — but to know your ranked it feels pretty good, I know there's still work to be done.”
ALL WORK FOR CHRISTMAS
Christmas, 16, began playing hockey with the Sydney Minor Hockey Association when he was three years old.
“Growing up in Membertou First Nation, I didn't think I'd do as well as I have in hockey,” said Christmas, who credits his family for helping him be where he is today.
“To be where I am and going into the QMJHL draft, it's an unreal moment for me.”
Following his minor hockey days, Christmas, a five-foot-10, 165-pound forward, spent two seasons with the North Sydney-based Joneljim Cougars of the Nova Scotia Under-15 Major Hockey League, posting 27 goals and 57 points in 63 games.
Last season, he joined the Rush program, notching nine goals and 22 points in a COVID-19-shortened 26 games in his rookie campaign. He also added a goal and four points in four playoff games.
“I think I put up some pretty good points individually last season,” said Christmas, who considers himself to be a two-way forward.
“I would have liked to have more points, but it took me a little bit to get used to the league, but overall I'm happy with my play.”
Rush coach Brad Cuzner spoke highly Christmas, acknowledging his progression from the start of the season until April.
“He's skilled, everyone sees it and he has positive upside to his offensive game, but we really challenged him as a coaching staff this year to learn how to play defence,” said Cuzner.
“At the start of the year, we couldn't rely on him in the defensive zone at all, but by the end of the year, he was one of our best penalty killers and one of our best defensive players.”
If Christmas is drafted this weekend, he'll become the second Membertou player in four years to be drafted by a QMJHL team. Sonny Kabatay — who happens to be Christmas's first cousin — was picked by the Halifax Mooseheads in the fifthround in 2018.
“I talked to him about the draft and he gave me a few tips,” said Christmas of Kabatay. “He told me how to deal with everything and told me to live the moment and that's what I'm going to do.
“I train with Sonny and I see how hard he works and all he puts into it. He knows what it takes to get to the next level, so it's cool to have him there with me to help reach my goal of playing major junior.”
Christmas, who has spoken with 16 of the league's 18 teams, will follow the draft with his family and friends from their home in Membertou.
Unlike Christmas, Pattengale has experience when it comes to the QMJHL Entry Draft.
The Sydney River product was eligible for the draft last year and was ranked between the ninth-and-14th-rounds. Unfortunately, he wasn't selected by a team.
“Not seeing my name come up on the screen, my heart sank because I knew I had put a lot of hard work into the 2019-20 season,” said Pattengale, who turns 17 years old on Sunday.
“I took a day to think about it and then I realized what I had to do to improve and it really gave me motivation heading into the new season.”
In his rookie season with the Rush, the six-foot, 179pound defenceman had a goal and 12 points in 35 games. Meanwhile, last year, he had three goals and 20 points in 29 games.
“I felt a lot more confident and I understood my roll and what I needed to do for the team to have success,” said Pattengale, noting his parents were athletes — his father a boxer and mother a soccer player.
“I had to be a leader, but I didn't have the success by myself, I had a lot of help from my teammates.”
Despite not being drafted at the major junior level, Pattengale was selected in the Maritime Junior Hockey League Entry Draft in the fourthround, No. 48 overall, by the Pictou County Crushers.
Cuzner, a former QMJHL player, believes Pattengale has the tools to one day play at the major junior level.
“He's a big physical guy and he can push the pace with his speed and his skill,” said Cuzner. “We talked with Patty about finding consistency and being a dominant player — I would put money on it that there wasn't a better defenceman in playoffs than him.”
Looking toward the draft, Pattengale said all he can do now is sit back and watch the draft.
“There's nothing I can really do at this point,” he said. “I've played hard all season and that's all I could really control. Right now, the draft is out of my hands and I'll just keep working and hope for the best.”
Pattengale, who has had a handful of interviews with QMJHL teams, plans to follow the draft with his family and girlfriend on Saturday.
TOP ISLANDERS PLAYER
Meanwhile, goaltender Jack Milner is the top-ranked Cape Breton West Islanders player entering the draft. The Antigonish product is ranked between the sixth-andeighth-rounds.
“I'm looking forward to the experience,” said Milner, who was born in the United States, but has lived in Nova Scotia since he's been a one year old.
“I was lucky this year to have a team that put me in a position where I could succeed. Coach Nick (MacNeil) gave me lots of opportunity to show myself and improve.”
In his rookie season with the Port Hood-based Islanders, the five-foot-nine, 159pound Milner had a 5-9-0-0 record with a 3.40 goalsagainst-average and a .888 save percentage.
“It was a super-fast league at the start, and it took me a couple of exhibition games to really get used to it, for sure,” said Milner. “I had a couple of ups and downs throughout the season, but overall I felt like I played good hockey.”
Despite his ranking, Milner credits his teammates for his success between the pipes.
“There's six guys on the ice at a time,” said Milner.
“We had good systems, we really committed to defence throughout the season and that all led to good things. I had a great defensive core and good guys who were just as committed as me to keep the puck out of the net.”
OTHER CONNECTIONS LISTED
Along with Christmas, Pattengale and Milner, several of their teammates were also ranked between the ninth and 14th rounds for this year's draft.
Rush goaltender Lucas Fraser, who spent the majority of the season with the Cape Breton Jets of the under-16 ‘AAA' league, defenceman Tyson LeFrense of Sydney, and forward Blake Snow of Donkin are also eligible to be picked.
Meanwhile, Islanders defencemen Ryan Hayes (Port Hawkesbury), Ray MacKinnon (North Grant), Leyton Stewart (Antigonish), and Cody Van de Sande (Antigonish) as well as forwards Rory Wood (Havre Boucher) and Kevin Walker (Inverness) can also be taken in the draft.
The first-round of the QMJHL Entry Draft will take place on Friday, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The opening round will be broadcasted on Eastlink Community Television as well as the QMJHL's YouTube channel. Rounds 2-14 are slated for Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m.