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James Gray, the OJHL Goaltender of the Year, verbally commits to SCSU

A 19-year-old from Toronto, Gray led the OJHL in goals-against average and tied for first in save percentage and wins for the North York Rangers. He will join the Huskies in the fall of 2022.

James Gray action 2.JPG
James Gray was named the Ontario Junior Hockey League's Goaltender of the Year after going 25-9-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and three shutouts in 36 games during the 2021-22 regular season. Gray led or tied for first in the league in wins, GAA and save percentage. He recently verbally committed to play for St. Cloud State University.
Courtesy of Roy MacAloney / Ontario Junior Hockey League

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — James Gray loves to compete. For some proof, consider the number of sports that he played in sixth grade in Toronto.

"I played on 11 of 13 sports teams that they offered," Gray said. "Everything from badminton to basketball, volleyball, soccer, hockey, flag football, frisbee ... I just love sports.

"Every time at lunch, I was outside. I like to think that I'm pretty versatile. It kept me active at that age and made me a better hockey player. I picked up lacrosse in grade 7 and played varsity lacrosse and travel team lacrosse ... Lacrosse was great, but in my grade 12 year, I had to decide. I felt like lacrosse was taking away from some of my hockey success. After that, it was all in for hockey."

And now, the 19-year-old will be playing college hockey at the NCAA Division I level. On Wednesday, he verbally committed to play goalie for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team. Huskies associate head coach Dave Shyiak saw Gray play in the playoffs and told him that the team was looking for a goalie to join the team in the fall of 2022.

"I thought I needed to get down to campus, to know it was the right fit and meet the whole staff and the guys and admission people and everybody I would see on a day-to-day basis," Gray said. "As soon as I got down there, I felt welcome and at home. Everybody was so straight up and honest and made me feel like it's the spot I want to be in.

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"I told Dave the first time that I talked to him that I've been working on a commitment for a really long time. If I keep my head down and keep working, the right fit will come and it will be a gut feeling and I'll know it's right. That's exactly what I felt when I stepped on the campus at St. Cloud."

Gray was on campus Tuesday and before he got on a plane to go back home to Toronto on Wednesday, he let his parents know.

"Right after coach Shyiak dropped us off at the airport, I told my parents, 'This feels right,'" he said.

Last season, Gray played for the North York Rangers in Toronto and was named the Ontario Junior Hockey League Goaltender of the Year. He tied for first in the league in wins (25) and save percentage (.931) and led the league in goals-against average (1.96) in 36 games. In the playoffs, he went 2-2 with a 1.91 GAA and .934 save percentage.

James Gray mug.jpeg
James Gray

"James is a really motivated, really good kid who works extremely hard," North York head coach Geoff Schmogoyi said. "For us this season, we depended on him a lot. He was the backbone to a lot of our success.

"He had some individual success himself with winning the goalie of the league (award) and the best goals-against (average) and save percentage. We're obviously going to miss him, but we're really happy for him and the opportunity he's going to have at St. Cloud next year."

No season in 2020-21

The 2021-22 season was the second for Gray at North York. It would have been his third season playing for the Rangers, but the 2020-21 season was canceled in the OJHL due to the pandemic.

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Gray said that he used that time away from competitive hockey to his advantage.

"In the year off because of COVID, I put in so much work not just in my physical game and training on the ice, but on my mental game and my body in the gym," said Gray, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 178 pounds. "Not being able to play hockey for a whole year, it taught you to not take anything for granted. When we finally got to drop the puck this year and got back to playing, I knew how huge this year was for me.

"For me personally, I wanted to get this opportunity to move on to the next level. But as a team, I love winning. I've won in the past," he said. "This year, I found a whole new level of consistency, puck playing, my size and my ability to move across the net and track pucks. I really got to put together everything I've worked on the last two years and found a whole new level of my game."

It sounds like the mental side of the game is where Gray made the most growth as a player. In 2019-20, he was 8-12-0 with a 3.65 GAA and .897 save percentage.

"He really focused a lot on being calmer in the net," Schmogoyi said. "He's a very athletic goalie and he relies on that quite a bit.

"He's not scrambling as much to make those big saves. His mental game — for such a young kid, he approaches the game like a pro. He has that mental awareness and understanding on how to approach a game and having a good routine."

James Gray action 1.JPG
James Gray was named the Ontario Junior Hockey League's Goaltender of the Year after going 25-9-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and three shutouts in 36 games during the 2021-22 regular season. Gray led or tied for first in the league in wins, GAA and save percentage. He recently verbally committed to play for St. Cloud State University.
Courtesy of Ray MacAloney / Ontario Junior Hockey League

Started playing hockey at 10

The legend is that people in Canada are born, immediately placed into skates and begin playing hockey. Gray, whose father grew up in South Africa playing rugby, did not play competitive hockey until age 10.

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"I was in the fourth grade and I was playing (out) and I was not all that good," Gray said with a laugh about his competitive start in the game. "I remember once, the goalie on my house league team was gone on a ski trip and I stepped in and offered to play. I think my team tied 9-9, but I said to my dad, 'I never want to play player again. Goalie is so much fun.'

"I was lucky that he was really supportive of me and bought me a set of pads and I ended up playing for my school hockey team. I think I developed from there because of my love for the game and how excited I was for the opportunity to play goalie."

He progressed and played for the Toronto Nationals Under-18 team that won the Telus Cup, which is the Canadian national championship for that age bracket. Gray was the MVP of the Telus Cup after having a .947 save percentage and 1.68 GAA in four games.

This past season, he helped North York win 38 of its 54 regular season games and into the second round of the OJHL playoffs. But Gray suffered a meniscus injury and was only able to play in one game of the second round. He is doing rehabilitation on the knee and is expecting to be ready to play in the fall.

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"His biggest attribute would be his competitiveness," Schmogoyi said. "He's very driven and he's the type of goalie who, if somebody scores on him in practice, he's getting upset. He wants to save every puck possible."

Gray agrees that he does not take practices lightly.

"I take pride in practices," Gray said. "When you work your ass off in practice, it makes games feel easy. When you do all the right things in practice and have the right habits — when you get to the game, it feels natural. You just put your head down and focus on the puck for 60 minutes.

"I don't like getting scored on and those (teammates) try to get under my skin and try to celly in my face. That just motivates me to shut them up and not let them score the rest of practice ... I love to compete. That's why I think it's such a great environment for me to step in at St. Cloud, to work and try to make myself and everyone else better."

Gray will have plenty of competition to see time in net. Dominic Basse, 21, will be a junior for the Huskies after playing the last two seasons at Colorado College. Jaxon Castor, 25, has spent the last three seasons as the backup goalie for the Huskies and started their last three playoff games of the season after David Hrenak went down with pneumonia.

Adam Ingram, a 17-year-old from West St. Paul, Manitoba, has verbally committed to play for the Huskies. He will play juniors this season for the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League.

Ingram lands at No. 27

St. Cloud State recruit Adam Ingram, an 18-year-old center from West St. Paul, Manitoba, is listed as No. 27 among North American Skaters by NHL Central Scouting on its final rankings for those eligible for the draft. At No. 27, that would project to either a late first round or early second round draft pick. That is the same ranking that St. Cloud State defenseman Jack Peart had going into the 2021 draft and Peart was taken with the 54th overall pick by the Minnesota Wild in the second round.

Ingram is listed at 6-foot-2.25 and 165 pounds. In his first full season of junior hockey and playing for the Youngstown Phantoms, Ingram tied for 18th in the United States Hockey League in goals (26), tied for 24th in points (55), tied for 16th in power-play goals (8), tied for 17th in power-play assists (16), had 30 penalty minutes and was a plus-10 in 54 regular season games.

He will likely join the Huskies this fall.

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Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com
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