“I wouldn’t trade my time in the “Q” for anything.”
You probably wouldn’t have to go far in the hockey world to find a player that shares the above sentiment. In this case, the message came from a player who, though impactful in the QMJHL, was plying his trade in Europe at the time.
The player was Dawson Mercer and at the time he was suiting up with Team Canada in Ostrava and Trinic, Czech Republic during the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, a voyage that ended with a return to his hometown of Bay Roberts, Newfoundland with a gold medal draped around his neck.
It was just one of several momentous occasions over the past few seasons that has helped make Mercer a darling of the junior hockey ranks and helped elevate the already impressive profile of hockey in Newfoundland.
And while Dawson’s QMJHL story is entering its final phases, the Mercer family itself is only on the brink of writing the next chapter in its successful personal relationship with the league.
Dawson’s story is one now well known. Drafted eighth overall by the Drummondville Voltigeurs in 2017, his reputation as a high scoring center, best known for dictating in-game situations and playing the right way in all three zones, preceded him. From promising rookie in year one to 30-goal scorer in year two, he was riding high on a strong Voltigeurs squad.
Year three in the “Q” would send Mercer from star status to superstar realm.
The 2019-2020 season began for Dawson with a pair of late additions. The first was to last fall’s list of “A” rated prospects for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. The next one was to Team QMJHL at the 2019 CIBC Canada-Russia Series. The next domino to fall was the biggest yet and this time, there was nothing “last minute” about it; a World Junior roster spot with Team Canada.
Quite literally, the only thing that could slow Mercer’s momentum was a pandemic, as COVID-19 wiped out his opportunity to take his new club, the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, on a potentially extended President Cup playoff run. But the key word here is slow, not stop. For nothing could stop Dawson from hearing his name called by the New Jersey Devils as the 18th overall selection in the latest NHL Entry Draft. Just like nothing could keep the smile off the faces of Dawson or his family during that special occasion.
Speaking of family, one member of the Mercer clan that proudly watched Dawson take his next hockey step just happens to be a guy that may know more about his tendencies on the ice than anyone. After all, 16-year-old Riley Mercer has been playing the role of little brother/goalie since his days with Dawson growing up in Bay Roberts.
Riley is yet another member of the Mercer household to understand the nuances of an increase in notoriety within the game. After a tough first year in Bantam hockey that saw him give up close to six goals a game for the Tri-Pen Ice, Riley’s fortunes changed dramatically. The 2018-2019 campaign would see him lead the circuit with a stellar .953% save percentage, capturing first Top Goaltender then league MVP honors, the latter an award older brother Dawson had earned four seasons earlier. What followed was a seamless transition to the Midget AAA ranks where, with a mid-pack Tri-Pen Osprey team, Riley again led his league in save percentage (.930%). And again, he took home Top Goaltender accolades.
So it would only be fitting that when the Drummondville Voltigeurs stepped up to the webcam holding the 31st pick in the 2020 QMJHL Draft, they uttered a last name they were all too familiar with. By grabbing Riley midway through the second round, they ensured that the emerging hockey family from a close-knit community of just over 11,000 souls along the rock-faced Avalon Peninsula continued a tradition that has already developed a strong foundation.
Two brothers; not to mention two members of a very athletic household. Father Craig played senior hockey in Newfoundland and can still fire a few pucks back his netminding son, the number of goals scored varying between which one you ask. Meanwhile, sister Jessica suited up at the female Bantam AAA level last year.
The fact that this knowledgeable sports crew made the decision to continue Dawson and Riley’s development through the ranks of minor hockey without leaving the province is simply testament to the fantastic developmental program Hockey Newfoundland has to offer. So far, it’s a decision that has led to three draft parties within the household and a plethora of well-earned recognition.
There are no guarantees in hockey. However, there are some away from the rink. For Dawson and Riley, one is their ability to rely on a hometown that will stick with them in all situations with fierce pride that makes their home province so beloved. The other, is family. By watching an interaction with the Mercer brood, it becomes instantly obvious where the two hockey-playing siblings have inherited something of a mantra that revolves around genuine modesty and a commitment to personal daily betterment both on and off the ice.
On a grander scale, it is the hockey world at large that are the benefactors. Specifically, those in and around the “Q” that have already indulged in the first helping of quality hockey delivered by the Mercers while eagerly anticipating the encore.
There’s a timeless adage that says “You can’t keep a good Newfoundlander down”. After one treats themself to an on-ice display by Dawson and Riley Mercer, a person might be tempted to change that saying to “A good Newfoundlander goes nowhere but up”.