St. Marys native scores 28 goals, top point-getter for OHL Attack after Christmas
By Pat Payton
OWEN SOUND – Consistency!
Kaleb Pearson became a consistent two-way player with Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League this past season. When all Hockey Canada-sanctioned activities were suspended effective Friday, March 13, the 19-year-old St. Marys native was on pace to finish with twice as many points as he collected the previous year.
Pearson had 28 goals and 52 points in 62 games, placing him sixth overall in Attack team scoring. Five of his goals came on powerplays and five were game winners. He was also a plus 22, third best on the team. There were six regular-season games remaining when the season was abruptly called off. In his rookie OHL campaign in 2018-19, the right winger had 14 goals and 28 points in 66 games.
“It was tough the way this season ended, but there was nothing anybody could do about it,” Pearson said in a recent interview with the Independent.
Strong second half
Reflecting back on his sophomore season, Pearson said it got much better in the second half of the schedule.
“At the start of the season, things weren’t really clicking for me. Some games I played well, and would have a lot of chances. Other games, I’d get a little unlucky and not get chances or I’d hit a couple of posts.
“But after Christmas, things really started to go my way. I was shooting the puck, skating and playing really well. I felt I was doing everything right to the best of my abilities. I was happy with my season; I just wish we would have been able to finish it and start playoffs.”
Owen Sound (30-24-4-4) was expected to play either Kitchener Rangers or Saginaw Spirit in the first round of Western Conference playoffs. Pearson and his teammates were looking forward to the post-season.
“We’re a good team and the guys on the team know that,” he said. “We’ve got skill, some backbone and we’ve got good goalies. I think we could have done some damage in the playoffs.
“Facing either Kitchener or Saginaw, we knew we would have been the under-dog in the series. Our coach (Alan Letang) says sometimes you want to be the under-dog. In the playoffs, it would have been important for us to work hard, stick to our systems and play our game.”
Player-of-the-Week team award
When the team awards were recently announced, Pearson shared the Huron Tractor Supply Player-of-the-Week award with teammate and linemate Barret Kirwin. Both players received the honour three times during the season. Kirwin and Pearson led Owen Sound in goals with 30 and 28, respectively.
On the Attack website, assistant coach/GM Joey Hishon, a Stratford native, was glowing about Pearson: “He’s a game breaker,” Hishon said. “He has the ability to change the entire momentum of a game with the flick of his wrist. He’s got an NHL-calibre shot and the size to physically dominate anyone he goes into a corner with. He’s a tough guy to play against, and we’re happy he’s on our side.”
Confidence level increases
Pearson acknowledged that his confidence level increased this past season. He says head coach Letang and the Attack assistants also placed more trust in him.
“The coaches were a big part of that,” he said. “They put me out in certain situations, which helped me build that confidence. Being it was my second year, I knew more about the league — all the ins and outs.
“I was always out on the powerplay, and flip-flopped between the first and second units which are both really good. I was also out on the PK (penalty-kill) most of the time. If we were up by a goal or even down by a goal late in games, I would be sent out. Being put in those situations builds your confidence for sure. I’m really grateful that I got that chance this year.”
When contacted by the Independent, Hishon said Pearson was Owen Sound’s leading point-getter after the Christmas break.
“If you break down Kaleb’s numbers for the second half of the season, he led our team in scoring from Christmas until the end of the year–by far,” Hishon said. “It was almost 10 points more than anybody else on the team. It really shows how much his work ethic is starting to pay off for him.”
Hishon reiterated that Pearson has an “unbelievable” shot. “When I say Kaleb has a pro-level shot, I really mean it,” the assistant coach/GM said. “On any pro team, he would have one of the best shots right now. He’s such a strong kid and has the ability to release the puck with no time and space. It’s a very rare skill to have.”
Focuses on being consistent
Pearson says what he tries to focus on at the Major Jr. ‘A’ level is being consistent — game in and game out — and playing a full 200-foot game.
“It’s so hard to be consistent and play your best, every game and every shift,” he says. “Offensive stuff kind of comes natural to me, but I’m always striving to get better in all areas of my game — my defensive game and my offensive game.”
Pearson, who turns 20 next month, enjoys playing Jr. ‘A’ in the city of Owen Sound. The Attack draws an average of 3,000 fans at their home games at the Bayshore Community Centre.
“It’s a smaller city; it’s not like London or Kitchener or bigger places like that,” he says. “The fans in Owen Sound really love their hockey and they come out and support us. We don’t get the big crowds like London or Kitchener does, but our fans make up for it. They are always loud and cheering us on, and they try and get under the skin of the opposing team. It’s a fun place to play.”
(Look for Part 2 of the Kaleb Pearson interview in next week’s Independent)