They may have fell just short of a Memorial Cup championship, but it was a season that Nick Suzuki and Isaac Ratcliffe will remember for the rest of their lives.
Suiting up together with the London Jr. Knights during the 2014-15, they figured it would likely be their last time playing on the same team, let alone on the same line. As fate would have it, the childhood friends would reunite on the ice four years later.
With both entering their fourth season in the OHL, Suzuki started the year in Owen Sound, while Ratcliffe was named captain of the Guelph Storm. It looked like the pair would finish their junior careers as they began, facing off as division rivals.
It was something they had both accepted as they pursued their pro hockey dreams.
That is, until Ratcliffe got a call from his childhood friend in early January that changed all that. It interrupting his pre-game nap but as he remembers, it didn’t bother him one bit.
“He asked what I was up to, and I just said: ‘Oh, nothing much, just taking my pregame nap. What are you up to?’ He told me he was on the way to Guelph; he just got traded,” Ratcliffe said in an interview on Around the OHL.
“I pretty much jumped out of bed and sprinted down the street. I was so excited I was screaming into the phone,” Ratcliffe said.
It didn’t take long for the former linemates to find that chemistry that helped made them both first round picks in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection.
“We figured out we’d be living together, and it just brought all those memories back. I feel like right away it clicked, game one we played in Niagara together and you saw it right away.”
The pair each had a goal and an assist in the game, with Suzuki capping off his Storm debut with the overtime winner.
The magic didn’t stop there. They both played crucial roles to help the Storm go an a memorable run en route to an OHL championship. Suzuki had 42 points in 24 games and was named playoff MVP, while Isaac scored 15 goals and added 15 assists.
“The belief in our team in that locker room was unbelievable. If you asked me when I was 16 years old if I was going to captain the Storm to an OHL championship, I would have never believed you,” said Ratcliffe.
“Doing it the way we did made it all that (much) more special.”
At the OHL Awards banquet this week at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ratcliffe received the Mickey Renaud Captain’s Trophy, while Suzuki was once again recognized as the league’s Most Sportsmanlike Player, becoming the first player to win the award on three occasions.
It’s not entirely uncommon for athletes to recognize their teammates when they win a league award, and that’s exactly what Suzuki did.
“First of all, I’d like to thank Isaac (Ratcliffe). He took a lot of the penalty minutes for me,” Suzuki said during his acceptance speech, which was met by chuckles from those in attendance.
As far as what’s next, the pair sets their sights on the pros as Suzuki tries to earn a spot with the Montreal Canadiens and Ratcliffe will looks to do the same with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Looking back, though, Ratcliffe says it was the perfect way to cap off his junior career.
“We pretty much started our hockey careers together and we ended our junior hockey career together so, either way, OHL championship or not, it was just icing on the cake to say we finished it off together,” he said.
Suzuki finished his OHL career with 141 goals and 328 points, while Ratcliffe tallied 124 goals and 17 points during his four years in the league.
Here is a full rundown of all the OHL award winners for the 2018-19 season:
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Sudbury Wolves) – Red Tilson Trophy / Most Outstanding Player and OHL Goaltender of the Year
Evan Bouchard (London Knights) – Max Kaminsky Trophy / Defenceman of the Year
Quinton Byfield (Sudbury Wolves) – Emms Family Award / Rookie of the Year
Andre Tourigny (Ottawa 67’s) – Matt Leyden Trophy / Coach of the Year
Jason Robertson (Niagara IceDogs) – Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy / Top Scorer
Justin Brazeau (North Bay Battalion) – Leo Lalonde Memorial Trophy / Overage Player of the Year
Nick Suzuki (Guelph Storm) – William Hanley Memorial Trophy / Most Sportsmanlike Player
Nicholas Canade (Mississauga Steelheads) – Dan Snyder Memorial Trophy / Humanitarian of the Year
Isaac Ratcliffe (Guelph Storm) – Mickey Renaud Captain’s Trophy
Thomas Harley (Mississauga Steelheads) – Bobby Smith Trophy / Scholastic Player of the Year
Sasha Chmelevski (Ottawa 67’s) – Roger Neilson Memorial Award / Top Academic University Player
Mack Guzda (Owen Sound Attack) & Zack Terry (Guelph Storm) – Ivan Tennant Memorial Award / Top Academic High School Player
Shane Wright (Kingston Frontenacs) – Jack Ferguson Award / First overall pick in OHL Priority Selection
Geoff Rutherford – Ken Bodendistel Character Award for Officials.