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Hockey road from Florida to Blind River

Dylan Knox calls it an initial case of culture shock.

But the 20-year old goaltender from Plantation, Florida is nonetheless happy to be spending his final season of junior hockey more than 1,800 miles from home in the Northern Ontario highway town of Blind River.

Knox is one of five goalies to have suited up for the Blind River Beavers thus far this 2013-2014 season and the six-foot, 175-pound puckstopper calls his Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League experience “a great opportunity to continue my development to try to reach my goal of playing college hockey.”

Having played two prior seasons of junior hockey in the United States, the Florida native jumped at the chance to move north to play in Canada, specifically Blind River and the NOJHL.

The articulate, well-spoken youngster did admit he was taken aback when he first arrived in Blind River just prior to the start of the 2013-2014 season in September.

“For sure, it was somewhat of a culture shock,” Knox said of leaving his Florida home to venture to Blind River, a town of about 3,500 residents which is located halfway between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury on Highway 17.

Plantation, which is where Knox was born and raised, has a population of about 85,000 and is part of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metropolitan district that boasts about 5.5 million residents.

Thus, the culture shock Knox referred to in going from Plantation to Blind River.

Still, Knox has settled into Blind River and said he is “thoroughly enjoying the experience. Blind River is a great little town, the people are very friendly. And the NOJHL is the best league I have ever played in.”

 While the Beavers are in last place in the NOJHL, they still have more than 20 games to play in the regular season (plus playoffs) and Knox likes the direction the team is taking under new head coach Don Gagnon.

 Gagnon took over behind the Blind River bench on Nov. 27, which was about the midway mark of the 2013-2014 campaign.

And Knox said the difference since Gagnon arrived along with assistant coach Dennis Bolton has been “like night and day.

 “The atmosphere has really improved since Don and Dennis came on board,” Knox said evenly. “There is a lot more structure and accountability. Don and Dennis have both been around the game a long time and their knowledge is very obvious.”

 Despite the Beavers last-place standing in the eight-team NOJHL, Knox said the mood around the team is a positive one.

 “(General manager) Warren (Lavoy) has brought in some new players who have really helped and like I said, Don and Dennis have made a huge difference.”

 Living so far from home means Knox has had to grow up fast. He lives in his own apartment in Blind River and cooks and cleans for himself.

 “That’s the way I like it,” Knox related. “I enjoy the independence. It’s also something my parents think is important.”

 Education is high on Knox’s list of priorities, which is no surprise given that his father is a lawyer and his mother is a school librarian. Knox has long aspired to combine school and hockey and is confident that he will do both at the National Collegiate Athletic Association level next fall.

 “I have already heard from a number of Division 3 programs,” Knox revealed. “It has always been my dream to play Division 1 hockey but there are a lot of really good Division 3 schools out there.”

Named after famed Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who wrote the classic Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Knox waxes words of his own choosing when talking about his hockey career.

“It’s been an adventure, a ride of ups and downs, good times and trying times,” said the baby-faced Knox, who looks younger than he is but acts much older than he is.

“The best thing that has happened to me in my hockey career has been moving to Canada and playing in the NOJHL for Blind River.

“I want to make the best of the rest of this season,” he said emphatically. “I am proud to wear the jersey of the Blind River Beavers and to play in the NOJHL.

The focus now is to get better as a team and to take advantage of what we are learning from the coaches. If we do that, things will work out for the better.” 

By Randy Russon, Mika Media, SaultThisWeek.com.