The Orillia Sport Council will announce the winner of the coveted Orillia Athlete of the Year for 2023 on Feb. 15 at Rotary Place. Isabella Holmgren, Chas Sharpe and Wyatt Thompson have been nominated for the award. Today, we feature Sharpe. Click here to read our profile of Holmgren.
Like a fine wine, Chas Sharpe seems to get better with age.
Sharpe, who started playing house league hockey in Orillia when he was five, is now skating in his fifth — and final — season with the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League.
Prior to the start of this season, the fleet-footed blueliner was named the team’s captain.
“Chas Sharpe has been with us for five years and has really grown as a player and as a person,” James Richmond, the team’s coach and general manager told OHL.com earlier this year.
“He’s earned the respect of his teammates and coaches. We all believe Sharpie is the right guy to lead this group and we couldn’t be happier to announce his captaincy.”
Sharpe, 20, said he was honoured to be named team captain.
“It’s truly a honour to be named captain of the Steelheads, and a leader of this young group,” he told the OHL’s website.
“We have such a special team this year and I’m just happy I will be able to help the young kids grow.”
Sharpe has been up to the task. The reliable defenceman with an excellent point shot who helps quarterback the power play, has 10 goals and 19 assists in 49 games this year. He also sports a plus six.
Sharpe has had a long love affair with hockey.
"Since I was born, I've been raised around the sport of hockey," he told OrilliaMatters earlier this year. "My dad played Junior B and taught me how to compete and the importance of giving it your best effort for every game."
When Sharpe was nine, he started playing with the Orillia Terriers A team. In his first year with the squad, he broke his wrist, which changed his hockey path forever.
Once the young forward was healthy enough to return to the lineup, his coaches decided to move him back to the point to play defence. He has never looked back.
During Sharpe's time with the Terriers, they went to the OMHA finals twice but came up short both times.
"It was a pretty memorable journey," he said.
When he turned 11, Sharpe graduated to the North Central Predators AAA program.
"It was the right group for me to make it to the next level of hockey," he said. "I also wanted to stay local in the Orillia area which made it a no-brainer. "
Playing with the Predators and contributing to several tournament victories made Sharpe realize that he could play at the next level.
"I got better and better each year," he said. "It started to become a real possibility for me to play in the OHL."
His old coach with the Predators, Andrew Morris, provided a letter in support of Sharpe’s nomination for the city’s athlete of the year award.
“I had the pleasure of coaching Chas in his minor midget/U16 year. Throughout the year you could see his dedication, attention to details, and his commitment to improve everyday become apparent,” recalled Morris.
“The more time spent with Chas the more appreciation you have of not only him as a player, but a person, and leader,” he said.
“As our year went on, he was the player more and more OHL teams were asking about and rightly so. Whatever situation he was put in, whatever role was needed, you knew that when Chas was faced with a challenge he would excel,” said Morris.
During his minor midget year, Sharpe was frequently being scouted by OHL teams. He was selected in the third round, 60th overall, by the Steelheads.
“After being selected by Mississauga in the third round you could see he was ready for his new challenge,” said Morris.
“He was one of the youngest players in the league his first year, and he not only earned his way into the lineup, but became an integral part of a team with winning aspirations,” Morris explained.
“Over the next few years I’ve continued to see that dedication and hard work earn him the respect of his coaches and teammates. He continues to get better each year and take on more responsibilities on and off the ice leading to becoming the captain of his team,” said Morris.
“It has been incredible to see his growth as a player and person and see him continue to thrive as an athlete today,” said Morris.
While he shone, the Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School graduate said the transition to the OHL wasn’t easy. But the experience has helped him grow, he said.
"I've grown a lot of confidence over the years," he said. "I've been here for a while now and have a really good relationship with our coach, James Richmond."
Sharpe credits Richmond for giving him "all the tools needed" to succeed in the OHL. He also credits his career year to the work he put in during the off-season.
It’s work he hopes might help him realize his NHL dream.
“This is my last year to get an NHL deal and that's my goal."
Leading up to the 2022 NHL draft, Sharpe, who stands six-foot-three, had talked to a few different teams, who ultimately decided to pass on him. He admits he was devastated by being snubbed on the biggest stage for hockey's best prospects.
"It hurt for sure," he said. "It's every kid's dream to play in the NHL, but there are a lot of different paths to that league."
Following the draft, Sharpe was invited to the Buffalo Sabres prospects camp.
"Being around NHL players every day was really cool," he said. "It made me want to get there even more. When you get a little taste of it, it motivates you a lot."
At the end of the camp, the Sabres decided to let Sharpe return to the Steelheads without a contract.
"It definitely lit a fire beneath me," he said. "It gave me extra motivation to just keep working."
Shape has been in contact with several NHL teams this season, giving him hope that his childhood dreams of playing pro are still alive.
The Orillia Athlete of the Year Award will be presented during a Feb. 15 ceremony in the main floor Orillia Room of Rotary Place in west Orillia. The presentation is slated for 7 p.m. All are welcome.
-- With files from Tyler Evans