Former minor hockey coach says Foerster always “cool as a cucumber”

For as much a hard worker and as driven as Tyson Foerster was playing for Josh Dahmer in the Barrie Colts ‘AAA’ minor hockey system, the head coach also recognized a funny kid with a good personality.

Something Foerster, who was selected 23rd overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft on Tuesday night, still is to this day.

Dahmer can recall plenty of stories around the young player he coached for three seasons before being drafted by the Barrie Colts in the third round of the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. Many of them always resulting in a good laugh.

“The first year I got him he talked about playing defence,” recalled the head coach. “He was just so good that he could change it up and try something new, so we put him on defence for a while. He was controlling the game back there, but we had a bunch of injuries and we put him back up to forward. The game we put him back to forward, I think he had three goals and five points and I looked at him and he looked at me and goes, ‘I guess I’m staying back up here, eh?’ And we both kind of laughed.

“He always had that personality. He’s got that smile, that look in his eye. All the kids are, but he was a joy to coach because he worked hard, always came to practice, always showed up and always worked, and always had that sense of humour. He keeps it light at the same time. It was fun being around him.”

Which is why Dahmer was beaming when the Flyers decided to make the Alliston native a huge part of their future.

“I’m so proud of him,” he said of Foerster. “He really deserves it. He’s always worked hard and he’s a great kid. He’s a really good player and as a coach I’m super proud of him and I’m super proud of him as a person as well. He deserves it.”

Dahmer said he and his ‘AAA’ minor midget assistant coach Zach McCullough believed there was a chance Foerster would go to the Flyers.

“We kind of thought St. Louis, but we had a funny feeling Philly would (select him) too because he fits into that program,” said the minor hockey coach. “He fits into their style. He’s got a bit of a mean streak, he can shoot, he can play and gets up and down the ice. It’s a good fit for him there, in my opinion.”

Dahmer recalls how they would break the minor hockey season into quarters and they could just see Foerster improving all the time because he worked so hard. Like any kid who excels, he was always hyper competitive. Since he was hyper competitive, he always wanted to be the best.

Foerster is just so driven, he’s keen to get better all the time. It wasn’t just every year, it was every segment, Dahmer explained, you could see him improving. That hyper competitiveness is what’s driven him to be good now.

“With Tyson he just kept maturing,” Dahmer said. “I think you could see it with him with his seasons with the (OHL) Colts, he just always gets better. It’s never ending with him. He’s always improving.”

Which is why Dahmer admits he’s not overly surprised that Foerster has taken his game to another level and developed into one of the top NHL prospects.

“It was great for him,” he said of Foerster being rewarded. “You always know with a draft there’s so many circumstances where kids can go at different times, but we were hopeful, the people I was talking to, that he was going to go in the first round for sure.”

Foerster cemented his first-round prospect status with a standout effort in this year’s CHL Top Prospects Game where he scored twice and added an assist to earn Team White Player of the Game honours.

That he succeeded with all that pressure playing in front of some 300 scouts also doesn’t surprise Dahmer. His relatively calm manner has helped him thrive in big situations.

“To be honest, he always was cool as a cucumber,” the coach said. “He always was. It’s funny how it works. You look back, and I’ve coached for a long time, people mistake it sometimes for being borderline cocky and he’s not at all. He’s confident in himself and he’s good with where he is and he knows his abilities. And since he knows his abilities, he’s confident in them and then he knows he can go out and perform.

“He doesn’t question himself, which is a great trait to have. He had that at a young age, so he was always like that.”

One of the draft’s top available finishers, Dahmer believes there’s more to Foerster’s game and that big shot. For one, he almost deceives you he’s a pass first guy.

“He is such a good passer and everybody knows that about him because he’ll make a play or two earlier in the game and you’re like, ‘Wow, what a pass,'” Dahmer explained.

While everybody talked about his goals in the Top Prospects Game, it was the backdoor pass he made to set up a goal that caught the attention of Dahmer. He looked the defender off and looked like he was going to shoot and then made the backdoor pass.

“He has that ability,” he said. “He fools defenders and he fools goaltenders because they almost got to play that pass because he’s that good of a passer and his shot is that much more effective and he can shoot accurately.

“I saw him do it in Mississauga. He does one little head move and gets the defender to commit and then he shoots right away and it’s a rocket when he gets it off. He’s so deceptive as well. He’s got all these little things to his game that keeps you honest.”

Dahmer has also heard all the concerns that Foerster will be a strong enough skater to succeed in the NHL, but his former head coach says he’s not concerned one bit.

In minor bantam Foerster hadn’t grown yet and struggled, but after a growth spurt he got out of it, recalls Dahmer who talked about this with McCullough and Mariposa School of Skating coach Paul Matheson who all aided with the development of players in Barrie ‘AAA.’

“Is he a pretty skater?,” asked Dahmer. “I’m not going to lie to you and say he is.”

But the coach remembers doing battle drills where they start at the blueline and race for pucks. Barrie had some fast players. Despite never looking good doing it, Foerster didn’t lose races very often.

When it came time for the OHL draft, OHL teams always were always worried about his skating.

“Zach and I would say, ‘He’s not slow,”‘ Dahmer recalled. “I know he hits the ice hard and it doesn’t look pretty, but he gets from Point A to Point B just as fast as anybody I know. His body position is so good and his mind is so good to where the puck’s going, he never lost races. It was almost like he knew where the puck was going before it got there.

“As chunky as his step was, he didn’t lose races. He was still just as fast, he just didn’t look as good as other guys. so I’m confident he’s just going to get better because I know his work ethic and I know how good (Matheson) is. I’m not concerned about his skating getting better.”

Dahmer is confident Foerster will be more than just a scorer for the Flyers. He believes he’ll be a player that can be counted on in different situations, like he was for him in minor hockey.

He watched as Foerster did an excellent job back then going up against Quinton Byfield – the Los Angeles King’s second overall pick in Tuesday’s draft – in Barrie’s minor midget games against the York-Simcoe Express.

“If  we needed guys, we’d put him on defence,” the coach said. “He was just a jack of all trades because we knew he would do whatever it would take to win. If that meant blocking shots, if that meant taking Byfield away, if that meant winning a draw, whatever you needed him to do you could rely on him to do it.”

“He’s a great player,” Dahmer added. “He’s ahead of his time back then and we tried to tell people at the OHL Draft, ‘You got to draft this guy, you got to draft this guy.’ Barrie got a steal with him in the third round.”

Dahmer is so proud of the player and person Foerster has become. People have reached out to congratulate him about Foerster’s first-round selection, but he says Foerster is responsible for all that.

“It’s nice to hear that stuff, but it’s nothing to do with me,” he explained. “It’s all about the kid and he’s done such a great job and worked so hard at it. As I said to his mom (Wednesday), I’m just happy to be part of the ride.”