“He was in there almost every day hitting golf balls,” said Shane’s father, Simon Wright. “It’s a frustrating game…it irritated him. We actually built a network. Outside it was like -20 (Celsius). He was literally trying to learn and master golf during the pandemic while also trying to keep fit.
“He’s actually turned out pretty good… well, he’s kicking my ass.”
A gifted playmaker center and high achiever, Shane Wright has been challenging both himself and others since he first got involved with the sport.
Already at the age of three on community fields.
“He would throw tantrums when people didn’t know the rules or the other kids weren’t playing right,” Tanya Wright, Shane’s mother, said with a laugh in an interview with her husband for The Canadian Press. “I would have to literally pull him down and throw him on the turf for a time out.
“It was really very embarrassing.”
That drive, that passion, that desire might have rubbed some the wrong way in Shane Wright’s early years.
It also helped put the Kingston Frontenacs on the cusp that his name will be called early and possibly first at the Bell Center on Thursday when NHL teams begin picking in the league’s first personal draft since 2019.
However, the process was not a straight line.
Raised in arenas around the Toronto area, Wright was granted exceptional status a year early at the age of 15 to play in the Ontario Hockey League – the short list of previous exceptions includes Connor McDavid and John Tavares – ahead of a 2019-20 campaign , which would eventually be interrupted by the pandemic.
He then failed to play at all the next season as the OHL failed to get their 2020-21 schedule off the ground. Some of the Canadian Hockey League’s top talent wanted to join teams in Europe or the US to play games, but Wright stayed where he was.
“We were like, ‘Are we sending him somewhere?'” recalled Simon Wright. “But at the same time you also believed that something was going to happen (in the OHL).
“In January (2021) we knew there was no hope. We positioned it as an opportunity to grow in other areas.”
Aside from growing in the gym and honing his skills on the ice, Shane Wright has struggled to take off the rink and pursue other interests – including golf.
“Last year it was definitely tough not being able to play,” he said. “I was really trying to focus on things to take my mind off hockey.
“That was something I really took to heart … just find those few moments.”
Wright also picked up a guitar and now sends family members short video clips of songs he learned.
“I work on hockey all the time,” the six-foot-tall, 199-pound Wright continued. “But it’s also really important to find the things that distract you from hockey and take you away from the game.”
Last fall, as OHL got back on track, he turned his attention back to competition, but a slow start prompted questions about Wright’s status as consensus No. 1 pick in 2022.
“It was tough, no question about it,” said Tanya Wright, who teaches at the high school. “As parents, we probably felt (the stress) before Shane because you always want the best for your child. And at some point he starts to feel it.”
Simon Wright added, “He hadn’t forgotten how to play the game.”
Shane would stabilize the ship and make Canada’s team at the World Junior Hockey Championships – an event abruptly closed and postponed to August due to rising coronavirus cases – but then tested positive for COVID-19 as soon as he returned to Kingston .
“Definitely some disappointments,” Wright said. “You have to take the positives out of these experiences.”
The 18-year-old finished 2021-22 with a total of 35 goals and 73 assists for 108 points in 74 regular-season and playoff games with the Frontenacs.
“He had to overcome a lot,” said Simon Wright, an account manager in the business world. “He just found a way to say, ‘Fuck it. Fuck it all. I’ll get this thing done.’”
Wright remains the highest-ranked North American skater available by NHL Central Scouting.
However, there’s no guarantee the Montreal Canadiens will call his name when making top picks at their home arena. Slovakia winger Juraj Slafkovsky, a star at the 2022 Olympics, and US National Team Development Program center Logan Cooley are also in talks.
“I’m still the player that I am,” said Wright, who had 14 points in five competitions to help Canada win gold at the U18 World Championships last spring. “Just because I’ve had a year off to play games doesn’t mean I won’t skate doesn’t mean I’m worse off.”
However, last season was a massive change for the family. It felt like every game, every layer was being dissected and analyzed on social media.
That’s because they probably were.
“I deleted Twitter,” said Simon Wright. “It’s out of control.”
“I wasn’t prepared,” Tanya added. “If every kid was scouted to the same extent as Shane, you could pick apart every player.
“That was a real eye opener.”
But they were also impressed with how their son handled the limelight.
Tanya recalled the aftermath of a Kingston loss where Shane was still the center of attention from fans looking for autographs.
“We were grumpy,” she said. “I mentioned, ‘You know, he wasn’t spending time with his family.’ And Shane says, ‘Mom, it’s okay. I can do this.’
“You’re like, ‘Wow, he found what he could handle.'”
His father then shared a story about a coach from Shane’s old minor hockey program who asked him if he would Facetime with a team of youngsters on the morning of one of Kingston’s playoff games this spring to discuss adversity speak.
It would have been easy to dismiss the request but he was more than happy to help.
“Incredible,” said Simon Wright. “Sacrificing his own preparation – his preparation time for a big game – to support kids because he’s been through a lot.
“And if he can help them, that’s special.”
The Wrights believe the rocky road that Shane has navigated – especially since the pandemic began – will serve him well going forward.
He’s the only player to receive so much attention in these unique circumstances.
“I’m not saying it can’t get any worse,” said Simon Wright. “But he’s experienced pretty much everything you can think of in terms of adversity that has challenged him in this game.”
Shane Wright said the biggest lesson of his journey was to not take anything for granted.
No game. Not a shift.
“You never know when something will be taken away from you,” he said. “Use every second of it. Soak it all up, enjoy it.
“Let the rest take care of itself.”
The next chapter in his story – one with many ups and downs to this day – is about to begin.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 1, 2022.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press