Let this serve as a memo to all QMJHL broadcasters: the time to learn how to pronounce Anton Topilnyckyj’s name correctly is now. It is a name that will be said a lot over the next few years.
The highly skilled 15-year-old from Oromocto is one of the best defence prospects coming from New Brunswick since Charlottetown blueliner Lukas Cormier.
So far this season, the soft-spoken defender has had to balance the nerves and high expectations that come in his draft year with the fact that he’s played a limited number of games due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“This season has been very nerve racking for me because it’s my first year in Midget (U-18) and it’s also my draft year. There’s not a lot of games going on right now, so it’s going to be even harder to get noticed”, Topilnyckyj said. “Considering hockey had been cancelled or postponed in many parts of the country, I feel blessed that we are still able to play hockey here in New Brunswick however.”
Being on the ice has meant that, over the past few months, the blueliner has had the chance to work with his coaches on certain aspects of his game, including being more aggressive and harder on the puck.
“Coach Bizz (Eric Bissonnette) and the rest of the coaching staff have done a great job keeping our team engaged and ready for when games start back up again”, stated the young prospect.
At 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds, the Fredericton Caps rookie rearguard still has room to grow physically. But it’s his maturity level that has caught the attention of scouts, most of them amazed by the ice in his veins when he has the puck on his stick.
“Anton has very good development potential”, one QMJHL scout said. “He plays with confidence and is not afraid to take good decisions with the puck and take quality shots on the opponent’s net. He is a smooth skater, very mobile, and he is just as effective when playing the left side as he is when playing on his strong side.”
Like so many other young Maritimers, Topilnyckyj grew up idolizing Sidney Crosby and cheering for the Pittsburgh Penguins, despite living in a family of die-hard Toronto Maple Leafs fans. However, the Topilnyckyj family seems to have a decent explanation for Anton’s love for the black and yellow squad.
“My parents always tell the story of how Crosby led the Canada’s World Junior Team to gold on January 4, 2005. The same day I was born”, he shares with a smile.
Family has always been an important part of the defenseman’s life growing up. He appreciates the sacrifices his parents, Anton (Sr.) and Karen, have made from the moment he first stepped on the ice at the age of five.
“Ever since I started playing hockey, both of my parents have been very involved. My dad has coached me ever since Timbits hockey and my mom has always been my biggest fan. Mom and Dad have been very supportive throughout my hockey career, regardless of the cost or time commitment”, Topilnyckyj said.
With the QMJHL Draft a few months away, Topilnyckyj tries not to think too much about it but, he admits, it’s also hard not to.
“Moving from Midget to the Q is a big step. I imagine it can be very intimidating and it takes a lot of confidence to play at that level”, he said. “For me, being drafted in the QMJHL would be a great milestone in my hockey career. I’m excited to see if I can take that step next year or if I need to work harder to reach it.”
For now, all Topilnyckyj wants is for people to remember his name. And how to say it.