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NHL prospects Durzi, Suzuki been working together a long time for a Memorial Cup


HALIFAX — When Guelph Storm defenceman Sean Durzi found out his NHL rights had been traded in late January, he knew exactly which teammate to turn to for some advice.

"Nick Suzuki, my best buddy, he was one of the first guys I called and he kind of talked me through it," said Durzi. "Roller-coaster of a year, for myself to go through (a trade) was all new territory for me."

The 20-year-old Durzi was drafted 52nd overall in 2018 by the Toronto Maple Leafs, but was part of a package sent to the L.A. Kings for veteran defenceman Jake Muzzin in late January, four weeks ahead of the NHL trade deadline.

The 19-year-old Suzuki, taken 13th overall by Vegas in 2017, went through a similar situation when the Montreal Canadiens acquired him from the Golden Knights for Max Pacioretty in September 2018 while still in junior. 

Right now Durzi and Suzuki are attempting to bring Guelph its first ever Memorial Cup championship, and began the tournament with a 5-2 victory over the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies on Saturday. Durzi had three assists, including a fine set up on a 2-on-1 with the centreman Suzuki to punctuate a win over the No. 1 ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League.

Durzi then had both goals for the Storm in their 4-2 loss to the Halifax Mooseheads on Sunday, with Suzuki assisting on one of them.

"Makes it a lot easier (to play) the way he sees the ice," Suzuki said about Durzi. "He has great vision, works hard every day."

Durzi and Suzuki entered the OHL together in 2015-16 and have been chasing the same goals ever since despite having different trajectories as players.

The blueliner was taken 228th in the 2014 OHL Draft by the Owen Sound Attack and was cut as a 16-year-old. He returned to his hometown of Mississauga, Ont., and played another year of triple-A before making the leap.

Suzuki was taken fourth overall at the OHL Draft a year later, and made the Attack roster alongside Durzi for the 2015-16 season on his first attempt. They would instantly click in mini camp and chose to be roommates for the duration of their time in Owen Sound.

"(Suzuki) was coming in, first rounder, highly-touted prospect. Two weeks in (to the season) I moved right into his house," said Durzi. "We share similar interests, both love the game and want to play in the NHL one day."

They went to the 2017 NHL Draft together in Chicago hoping to both hear their names. Suzuki, from London, Ont., went in the first round while Durzi didn't get selected.

Durzi, six-foot 187 pounds, went back the next year in Dallas and was picked in the second round, giving him the feeling of both excitement and relief. 

"When I went back the next year it was unbelievable," said Durzi. "I had a good year, worked hard in the summer. I was motivated."

Suzuki added: "(He) has earned everything he has got."

Guelph manager/coach George Burnett decided to load up in January for a push to the Memorial Cup and made five major trades, including a blockbuster with Owen Sound that got him Suzuki and Durzi. That transaction went down only 19 days before the Muzzin deal, making it a hectic couple of weeks for Durzi.

While Suzuki, five-foot-11 183 pounds, was the key to the deal and went on to produce 42 points in 24 playoff games to win the OHL championship and post-season MVP, Durzi did his part from the back end. He had 27 points in 24 contests, second only to defence pairing Dmitri Samorukov, an Edmonton Oilers prospect.

"Sean's as capable at moving the puck as anyone in our league," Burnett said about Durzi. 

"He plays a bit of a high-risk game at times, he and Samorukov have made a nice pair... His ability to create off the rush, join the rush and create on the power play is very special. We're very happy to have him doing that for our hockey club."

Durzi had to deal with various injuries over the past two season that limited him to only 40 regular-season games last year, and just 35 this season. He was still able to produce 26 goals and 86 points in those 75 combined games.

Already in his overage season, Durzi's final junior game will happen this week in Halifax. After that his attention will shift to trying to make it as a pro with the Kings organization.

"To speak with them and see how much they like me is really reassuring," said Durzi. "It's a risk to take a young prospect but I can work every day to show them they made the right decision."


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Kyle Cicerella, The Canadian Press

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