Coome’s climb: London Knights’ defenceman on a new path
There isn’t a pint-sized hockey player anywhere in Canada who hasn’t pretended to score a great big goal into a net on their driveway or in the street in front of their house.
Game 7. Stanley Cup finals. Overtime.
Most of the smallest players are channelling Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid as they slip their orange plastic ball between the posts.
They practice their celebrations so that they know what to do, not IF the time comes, but WHEN.
The world of an eight- or nine-year-old can be a pretty wonderful place.
The hockey world is wide open to them at that point. Anything is possible. But hockey, like most things in life, takes the form of a pyramid. The higher you rise, the smaller the area.
Programs like Peanut and Tyke lead to select teams. A year later, AA and AAA teams emerge and the pyramid rises in a hurry and even young players begin to realize whether or not they have a place inside it.
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Riley Coome played those games on his driveway. He scored those goals. He may have even had a celebration or two in mind.
But somewhere along the rise up that pyramid, he began to find himself more on the outside than the inside. By the time Coome got to his draft year, he was playing AA hockey, leaving him about as close to the centre of the scouting radar as someone playing lacrosse.
Coome went undrafted in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection. That wasn’t necessarily a disappointment because he really didn’t expect to be selected. Most players on a AAA team will not have their name called. The pyramid gets awfully narrow at that point.
Coome still loved playing hockey, he just had different goals. Playing professionally was not one of them.
“Really, making a Junior B team would have been amazing. I was just having fun going to the rink, says Coome.
It was that innocent.
Coome attended Catholic Central High School in London at the time where he was a part of the Leaders In Exercise and Athletics Program (LEAP).
From the moment he walked through the door, Program Coordinator, Wendy Glover admits Coome was impressive.
“The first thing that we do in the program when we meet is an academic and athletic potential assessment and Riley tested off the charts in hockey. We look at growth pattern, body type, their effort level in training and their answers to various questions.”
At that point, Coome was a high school student and a high school hockey player.
It was as he started Grade 12 that the London Knights took notice of Coome.
Knights’ management happened to see him as he was trying out for the London Nationals.
“We liked what he had,” says Knights’ assistant coach, Rick Steadman. “He skates well for a big guy and has a good stick. He just moves pucks and keeps it simple.”
Not long after that, Coome found himself on OHL ice for the first time.
“Even when I first got asked to come out here, I didn’t think it was real,” Coome says. “I thought it was just because they didn’t have enough bodies. Then they asked to sign me and I thought, that’s pretty big.”
Still, the Knights are known as an organization that doesn’t rush players into situations they might not be ready for. For example, David Bolland didn’t see a whole lot of ice time as a rookie. He only scored seven goals. Then he went on to win two Stanley Cups and score a championship winning goal as part of a decade in the National Hockey League.
The Knights have allowed Coome his own time to develop. On the ice, he keeps things pretty simple.
As much as that might make you think he would blend into the background, that’s actually one of his best attributes.
“It’s a lot easier to stay out of the coach’s eye (that way),” points out Steadman. “When you are trying to be offensive, or do too much, that’s where you can make more mistakes and that’s when you catch the coach’s eye for the wrong reasons.”
Coome still seems to take a second to realize the twist that his path in hockey has taken. He spent an entire year playing Jr. B after just hoping he could make a roster. Now, the 18-year-old is looking to take the next step into the Ontario Hockey League and open all kinds of new possibilities.
He has set his sights as high as he can see.
“I would like to go as high as I can go… pro? That’s everybody’s dream.”
Coome still seems hesitant to admit it.
“It’s kind of unrealistic and surprising (right now), but it’s nice to think that’s still a possibility.”
He began just like any other young hockey player, at the base of that pyramid. As it rose and narrowed, somehow Coome found himself on the outside for a little while.
But Riley Coome is definitely back on the inside of that pyramid now.
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