At this year’s trade deadline, Ontario Reign defenseman Sean Durzi was relieved to just be able to focus on hockey.
Not that there was any speculation surrounding the rookie defenseman, but one year after he was traded not once but twice around the deadline, Durzi was happy to not be on the move again.
“Last year was a bit of a surprise to me,” Durzi said. “You can never really count on being completely quiet, but this year is nice to just go through it. LA bringing me in, hopefully they want me to stay for a while, but it’s nice to just have a team competing for the playoffs here and just worry about hockey.”
The first trade wasn’t necessarily a shocker. As Durzi explained, his OHL team, Owen Sound, was looking to get younger and with Durzi being in his last season of junior hockey, he knew there was a possibility he could get moved to a title contender. That thought became a reality on January 9, 2019 as Durzi, along with a pair of teammates, was traded for a package that included three younger players and four future draft picks.
“With juniors, I knew it was my last year, I knew Owen Sound was kind of going a bit younger,” Durzi said. “They were really hoping for my best interest, and their own, so I figured something might have happened and it ended up happening.”
What happened 19 days later, however, was what really caught the then 20-year-old by surprise.
On January 28, the LA Kings moved on from a big piece of their 2014 Stanley Cup core in defenseman Jake Muzzin. With the Kings looking to get younger, Muzzin was a very appealing piece to a contender like Toronto, while LA was targeting younger prospects and draft picks, with the former second-round selection Durzi fitting the bill.
Durzi was one of three assets moved by Toronto in that deal, along with now Ontario teammate Carl Grundstrom and a first-round selection that became current Reign teammate Tobias Bjornfot. While the return was widely regarded as a good one for the Kings, it still came as a shock to Durzi, who had attended just one development camp with the Maple Leafs before he was moved.
“It was definitely from the Leafs to the Kings,” Durzi said, when asked which trade caught him more off guard. “Once I got traded [in the OHL], I think it was maybe a month later when I got the call from the Kings saying that I’m coming to LA and that one completely caught me by surprise. It’s nice this year to just worry about hockey, and not have to worry about any of that stuff.”
While the trade didn’t affect him in the interim, Durzi was still floored to be a part of the return for a player like Muzzin. An Ontario native himself, Muzzin was a premier defenseman in the NHL as Durzi grew up, and the young blueliner admitted that the two-time Stanley Cup champion was a player he watched, and took note of, when trying to improve his own game.
“Yeah, I mean it was Jake Muzzin, he’s a good player who I grew up watching,” Durzi said. “He’s played with Team Canada, he’s played with a bunch of great teams and he’s won some cups…I grew up watching him, you learn from guys like that. To be in a trade going the other way, he probably doesn’t notice it as much, but it was definitely kind of cool for myself. He was such a big part here, the way he was off the ice, I still hear about it, it’s cool to be a part of that.”
What was perhaps especially strange regarding a prospect being traded, is that you’re moving from one NHL organization to another, without ever having played a game for them. In Durzi’s case, he never even suited up for Toronto in the AHL.
After you’ve been drafted, the last thing you expect is to then be traded in the season immediately following, though with Toronto in a championship window, all prospects are on the table in potential deals to help win a Stanley Cup. For Durzi, he understood that the trade was in the best interests of both parties, and respected how both organizations handled the situation.
“You never expect to get traded, especially at that level,” he said. “I had just gone through the draft and everything like that, going through my first season being with an NHL organization, which was a little bit different for me. When it came down to it, I think it was in both teams’ best interests at the time and I think both teams were really good about talking to me about it. Obviously, it’s a little weird not playing a game in the NHL, or of pro hockey at the time, but this year’s been great so far.”
Though he was, admittedly, shocked by his rights being moved at the NHL level, the trade that impacted him on a day-to-day basis was his OHL deal, moving approximately 90 miles from Owen Sound to Guelph.
Being in his final season in the OHL, Durzi had graduated high school by that point, which removed one potential variable from his transition. Having been through three seasons already, and seeing how things have gone, Durzi felt he was better equipped to handle a trade, but still departed his billet family, which he had lived with for his entire time with the Attack. That separation was perhaps the most difficult thing in his move.
“At the time, I was with a family for three and a half years, almost four years, so you get close to that family,” Durzi said. “I was roommates with [Nick] Suzuki for a while, I had different roommates too, but you’re moving to a new city, a new billet family, and then everything else that goes with a trade in hockey, right? I think the biggest thing was leaving that family that I lived with, they were really good to me, then I went to Guelph and I met a really good family there as well.”
The move meant a chance at a championship, and Durzi was fortunate enough to play for two. The right-shot defenseman scored at over a point-per-game pace for the Storm down the stretch, and then went on to collect 27 points (3-24-27) from 24 OHL postseason games, as Guelph went on to with an OHL Championship.
Though Guelph bowed out of the Memorial Cup in the semifinals, finishing third in the CHL’s overall championship, Durzi led all defensemen with seven points (2-5-7) from four games played in the short tournament. The experience of winning the OHL championship, however, was one that Durzi won’t soon forget.
“That was the goal,” he said. “No matter where I played, I was going to give everything I’ve got to try to win a championship. Especially in your last year, it means so much more than earlier. Knowing that Guelph got a few key pieces there, you always want to win no matter where you go.”
As Durzi navigates the stretch run of his first professional season with the Reign, he finds himself in the middle of another playoff push, with Ontario playing its best hockey of the season in search of a Calder Cup Playoff position.
With the trade deadline in the rear-view mirror, and Durzi knowing where he’ll be playing his hockey for the next six weeks and hopefully longer, he has his sights set on achieving the same result as a season ago.
“This year, next year, your whole life you want to win,” Durzi said. “To win a championship is huge, especially to have that just on your resume, to be a winner is not easy no matter where you go or what league you play in. To know what it takes to go through that playoff grind and win a championship going through that process, you learn a lot from it, not only from yourself but from your teammates and I definitely think I can use that experience for my entire career.”