Sudbury, ON – Greater Sudbury has grown on Zach Snow.
Ben Leeson from The Sudbury Star
The Rayside-Balfour Canadians’ recently graduated captain has remained in the city since March, when the NOJHL suspended, then cancelled its playoffs, rather than return to his native Acton, Ont., and not just because he still has a steady job at Belanger Ford in Chelmsford, or plans to attend Laurentian University in the fall.
“I really like it here,” said Snow, 21. “My hometown is small, but it’s close to the cities, and back home, it’s a lot tougher to guess how long it’s going to get somewhere, because of the traffic. I find Sudbury has a bit of a slower pace when it comes to stuff like that, and to everything, really. Back home, everything seems like it’s rushing all the time.
“It’s not all city here. I’m not a big-city guy, I don’t like going to Toronto a whole lot, so I guess this is a little more my style. I just like it, I like the people. My billets are great and they have been kind enough to let me stay there for at least my first year of university. They’re family to me now.”
Snow’s on-ice experience over three seasons was positive, as well. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound defender accompanied the Canadians on a trip to the NOJHL final in 2017-18, his first season as a junior, and then on a very respectable run to the West Division championship series in 2018-19.
Wearing the C and enjoying a career year in terms of point production, Snow had hoped to help lead a deep, skilled squad all the way to a Copeland-McNamara Trophy this spring, and certainly looked to have a shot based on the team’s division-best 40-11-3-2 record, before COVID-19’s rapid spread forced leagues across the country to scrap their seasons.
“This was probably the best team in my three years here, based on pure skill and everything,” Snow said. “We had so many young guys who have such high ceilings and I think you’ll see quite a few of them go on to different paths, whether it’s the OHL or NCAA. A lot of them have elite skills in certain things — we had some really elite skaters, some elite thinkers — and all around, I think we could have made a really good push for the playoffs.”
While he continued to be a steady defensive presence, Snow broke out offensively in his final year of junior hockey, scoring 11 goals — his previous career high was two — and adding 26 assists to lead all Rayside rearguards. He was named NOJHL Defenceman of the Month for January, then a second-team all-star in March.
“I have never really been an offensive guy,” he said. “My first year, I was kind of getting my footing, playing at this level and everything, learning the game and learning the league, but in the last couple of years, I was proud of the way I developed my offensive game a bit more and I was able to produce. I always felt I was pretty good in my own zone, but I struggled to help the team offensively, so it felt nice to be able to help out at both ends of the ice.”
His leadership was also key in assisting rookies such as Nick DeGrazia, Mitchell Martin, Zacharie Giroux, Gavin Brown and Oliver Smith to make smooth adjustments to the NOJHL, which in many cases will serve as a stepping-stone to the major-junior level.
Snow refused to take all of the credit, however, giving management, coaches and his fellow veterans an equal share of praise for helping bring those freshmen along, and the youngsters themselves for adapting to quickly.
“It didn’t really come down to what one or two guys did in the room,” he said. “Our team had a ton of guys who could lead, even some of the young guys.”
With several eligible returnees and a wave of new talent incoming, including recently signed defenceman Wilson Farrow and forward Mackenzie Sedgwick, Snow believes the Canadians will be more than competitive again in 2020-21.
Whether or not Snow will find himself in another dressing room come fall remains to be seen. He’s enrolled at Laurentian, where he plans to study psychology, and would like to play varsity hockey if given the opportunity, but has yet to secure a commitment. There could be options in Europe, and a Swedish semi-pro team has expressed interest, but he’s not sure it’s the right time to head overseas.
“I think it would be fun to continue playing competitively,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to play hockey just for fun on a Friday night. I always liked the competitive aspect of it. It gets you going, gets your heart racing and gets you some adrenaline. I like the feeling of winning, too. I have always had a goal in mind, to win a championship, to move on to the next level, and that’s what I have always looked forward to.”
Regardless of his career path from here, he’ll treasure his time in Rayside, even with its abrupt end.
“It’s not how we wanted it to end, but for the safety of everybody, that’s how they decided to do it. We had a really great team, though, and I had a lot of fun with all the guys. We had a lot of great guys and I think it will be exciting to see where a lot of them end up next year and how well they do.”