It began in May with a phone call from the Washington Capitals’ amateur scout Wil Nichol asking Ryerson Rams’ defenceman Alex Basso if he would like to take part in the NHL team’s rookie camp.
Basso didn’t hesitate at the opportunity. “You learn to be a professional,” he said. “Everything’s a lot faster, a lot of guys are signed and have played NHL games before so there’s good competition.”
The 22-year-old had a dominant rookie campaign last year, ranking fourth in Rams scoring with 27 points. His tally of 24 helpers was also the fourth highest across the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) region and the fifth highest number of assists by any Rams player in a season.
In camp, held on the weekend of the 12-13 of September, Basso played among top Washington prospects Jakub Vrana and Madison Bowey, though he didn’t feel out of place after attending the Minnesota Wild’s rookie camp in 2013.
“I’ve been here before and I played in the OHL for five years so that competition’s what I’m used to,” he said. “The speed, the physicality and the shooting aren’t too far from where I’m at.”
Instead, Basso’s biggest challenge was playing 12 to 14 minutes per game rather than the 30 minutes he racks up in a Ryerson uniform. “Playing lower minutes you have to be more alert and stay more focused,” he said, adding that he hopes to maintain this focus while playing extended periods in the upcoming season for the Rams.
This is the second straight year Ryerson student-athletes have been selected to NHL prospect camps, which is a testament to the quality of the team’s players.
“Ryerson seems to be getting better every year,” Basso said.
The program has 12 recruits, including several former OHL skaters and two players — goalie Taylor Dupuis and forward Chris Marchese — who’ve also attended NHL camps earlier this month.
Dupuis played against Basso in the OHL, and he’s glad they’re teammates now. “He was always known to have that wicked shot on the back end and be an offensive guy,” the goaltender said. “Our pregame scouts would always say you’ve got to keep an eye on him.”
In today’s NHL, teams are leaving no stone unturned in their search for talent. In many cases, professional teams still scout players who join Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) teams after their junior careers.
“They’re going to look at every available hockey player out there,” Rams head coach Graham Wise said. “CIS hockey is a great opportunity for the late bloomers and gets them moving in the right direction.”
Wise’s son Jamie is living proof of this. The former Ram was signed out of the Chicago Blackhawks rookie camp as a free agent last year. He tallied three goals for Chicago’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Rockford IceHogs over 22 games.
Wise expects Washington to monitor Basso’s play throughout the season. Most NHL clubs send scouts to watch his team play.
“They’re aware of what you’re doing off the ice, how you play on the ice, they know who you hang around with,” Wise said. “They can watch you at any time.”
Having attended two professional camps, it’s evident Basso is doing something right. He was one of 10 free agents brought in for the rookie tournament to lace up with 13 of the Capitals’ newest prospects.
Most attendees compete as if their livelihoods depend on it — and they do, with NHL contracts on the line. But Basso’s set on earning his business management degree before he plays professionally.
“It’s do or die (at these camps) so it’s a different mentality,” he said. “I think the atmosphere is a bit more intense.”
Check out our interview with Alex Basso:
(Produced by Charles Bossy)
With three years remaining at Ryerson, Wise expects Basso’s game to only get better. “He’s a great skater and today’s game being a speed game, he fits in well,” he said. “Should the opportunity to play professional hockey present itself, Basso will be well established academically as he continues his hockey career.”
For now, however, Basso is focused more on the team than his personal goals. He believes his squad can win the OUA championship, which will only lead to more attention from NHL organizations.
“We have a good team,” he said. “Guys going to development camps puts our school on the map, so hopefully next year we get a couple more guys going, too.”
The Rams open their regular season on Oct. 9 when they host the Concordia Stingers at 7:30 p.m. at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.