OHL 20 in 20 Summer Spotlight: Wells models growth through adversity

Ontario Hockey League

The Peterborough Petes were East Division champions for the first time in 10 years this past season and anyone in the organization would be quick to affirm that Dylan Wells had a lot to do with it.

The third year goaltender who teammates voted as the club’s Most Valuable Player this past season faced an average of over 30 shots a night, posting a 33-15-2-2 record with a 3.07 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. He proceeded to backstop the Petes to an appearance in the Eastern Conference Final, posting a .930 playoff save percentage while even becoming the first netminder in Petes history to score a goal in the process.

All of that success didn’t come overnight though.

The former 21st overall pick in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection battled mentally and physically through his first two OHL seasons, powering through his mother Barb’s triumph over breast cancer along with many of the growing pains that come with being a young goaltender facing older, more experienced shooters.

After a rookie campaign of new experiences in 2014-15 that culminated in a gold medal performance for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, Wells encountered numerous challenges in his sophomore season, struggling throughout the year with a resulting 4.59 goals-against average and an .871 save percentage over 27 games, far from the numbers he had been working towards.

Despite a self-described ‘sophomore struggle’ in his second year, the Edmonton Oilers saw something in the St. Catharines, Ont. product, selecting him in the fifth round of the 2016 NHL Draft, a silver lining that motivated him throughout the ensuing summer.

“It was like a snowball effect,” described Wells. “Things would go wrong and then I’d overcompensate to try and fix them and I was all over the place. I think as a young goaltender I got into the habit of relying too much on my athleticism and it really occurred to me that I had to refine my game and get back to the basics.”

Wells’ work ethic, attention to detail and insistence on ample preparation ahead of games and practices didn’t go unnoticed in the Petes dressing room. Teammates knew his committed approach would lead to good things.

“When I think about our team, Wellsy is probably the guy who jumps out as taking the most pride in his game in the sense that he’s always prepared and ready to go come game time,” said veteran defenceman Matt Spencer, a player likely to turn pro next season after signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning in April 2016. “You could always tell, even from the time that he was just a young guy in the league, that he was going to put in the time and effort to give us a chance to win hockey games.

“He never gives up either,” Spencer added. “He’s shown that to all of us.”

After a trip back to the drawing board and mixed results in the opening two months of the season, Wells hit his stride in December, earning Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week honours on December 20th as he helped guide the Petes to their first 10-game winning streak since 2006.

Though there’s many he’d thank for his turnaround, a former Petes goaltender was mentioned by name for his patience, commitment and encouragement through the entire journey.

“Andrew Verner was a real big help through all of it,” said Wells of his goaltending coach. “All of my life up until that second season I considered myself a mentally tough goaltender, but I was tested and I was thankful to have him there to help me through it. He kept me grounded and reassured me that if I kept working hard things were going to fall into place.”

Fall into place they did.

Wells’ impressive 2016-17 season earned him an invitation to Canada’s National Junior Team Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Mich. this past month, an event that saw him suit up in a pair of games and earn a win in a 22-save performance against Finland.

While his mind is set on competing for a championship in Peterborough with a Petes squad that looks to be competitive once again, the lingering thought of World Junior representation sneaks up now and again.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it,” he laughed. “Every kid watches the World Juniors at Christmas time and dreams of putting on the jersey. I’d love to play and I’ll do everything I can to make that team, but if it doesn’t happen I have a great team in Peterborough.

“Ultimately, me and the rest of the guys, we all want to win a championship,” he added. “I think my experiences as a young guy in the league, dealing with the lows that every goaltender has to deal with, have prepared me to be the kind of goaltender that can handle the pressures of being on a competitive team and I want to be at my best this season.”

Over 20 days in August will shine a summer spotlight on storylines from all 20 OHL clubs.  See more from the OHL 20 in 20 series.

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