Trevor Georgie remembers the smile. It was an ear-to-ear grin, if his memory serves correct.
When Georgie invited forward Josh Lawrence into his office in June 2018 to receive a Saint John Sea Dogs jersey, the feeling of elation was mutual between player and general manager.
Lawrence, a native of Fredericton, N.B., which is about an hour’s drive from Saint John, had just decided to forego his commitment to Boston University to join the Sea Dogs. Lawrence was among the top prospects heading into the QMJHL draft, but teams were wary of selecting him because they figured he’d be on his way to the NCAA.
When the 15th pick came around, the Sea Dogs made their move on Lawrence.
“He was really, really impressive,” Georgie recalls. “I certainly believe that if Josh had full intentions of coming to play in the CHL, he would have been a top-five pick, without a shadow of a doubt, in that draft.”
A similar situation played out later in the draft for another Fredericton forward. Dawson Stairs was the No. 26-ranked prospect on the QMJHL Central Scouting List, yet because of his intentions to pursue the NCAA — he hadn’t committed anywhere, but had a few options — he fell to the seventh round, when the Sea Dogs took a chance with the 109th pick.
The team invited him to training camp, and Stairs grew so enamoured with what he saw that he decided to stay.
“I got here and the atmosphere around the rink [was strong],” says Stairs. “The [players] who had a spot on the team — I could tell they were great guys and great hockey players, too. I just knew if I played here I would have a great time in juniors and I would succeed, as well, at the same time.”
Lawrence and his family made their decision after evaluating the club’s on-ice development plan for him as well as off-ice education. There was also the promising future of the club and the pull of home for a teenager who had spent the previous two years at the Selects Hockey Academy in South Kent, Conn.
“After two years, it felt like it was time to come home,” Lawrence says, noting that his parents and grandparents now attend all of his home games in Saint John. “Being able to play in front of my family and friends every night is special.”
Lawrence, 17, grew up watching fellow Fredericton players Spencer Smallman and Zack Phillips suit up for the Sea Dogs. Both were eventually drafted by NHL teams (Smallman by the Hurricanes and Phillips by the Wild) and the hope for Lawrence is that he’ll join that prestigious club as soon as 2020. He’s currently projected to be among the top 100 players selected in next year’s NHL draft.
The five-foot-seven, 169-lb. winger likens himself to Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point — “Smaller player who works really hard,” says Lawrence.
He has impressed onlookers in the Q with his speed, ability to control the puck and his commitment. His body is still maturing and according to George he’s gained a tremendous amount of strength since the summer, which he spent back in his hometown.
Summers in Fredericton were the norm for both Lawrence and Stairs, who were born three days apart in January 2002 and actually grew up across the street from each other, attending school together from kindergarten to Grade 8. Football, basketball and volleyball in the pool in Stairs’s backyard were common activities for them as boys who made a competition out of everything.
“It was competitive because we always played against each other,” says Stairs. “Both of us wanted to win so badly. It was good to have that competition, but it was also good to have a close friend.”
They never played on the same hockey team, though, until now.
“I’ve thought about it,” Stairs says. “Two kids growing up on the same street, now playing on the same Q team. I would never have expected it.”
Adds Lawrence of the coincidence: “It’s pretty surreal.”
The proximity to Fredericton, where Rogers Hometown Hockey makes a stop this weekend, allows the pair to travel back to their old street whenever there’s a break in the schedule. The trips home provide a chance to “hit the rest button,” says Lawrence.
“The season is such a grind, playing so many games, you just come home and you don’t think about hockey. It’s family time. It’s just really nice to be able to come home and relax and don’t think about hockey and spend time with family and friends.”
When Georgie envisions what the New Brunswickers could accomplish in Saint John, it brings a smile to the GM’s face. He’s been methodically rebuilding the Sea Dogs over the past two seasons and has managed to piece together some promising building blocks, including defenceman Jérémie Poirier and forward Joshua Roy, the Q’s No. 1–overall pick in the 2019 draft.
The team is off to a 4-9-1 start this year after missing the QMJHL playoffs last year, and Lawrence and Stairs have each accumulated three goals and eight points.
“Our goal is to win a Memorial Cup here in Saint John,” says Georgie, who is in his fifth season in the role. “The dream of watching Josh Lawrence hand the Mem Cup over to Dawson Stairs, the two of them having lived down the street from one another, is pretty special.”
And Lawrence, for his part, hasn’t regretted his decision to skip the NCAA for a minute.
“[Boston University] was a great option, but … they’re building something here and I want to be a part of it,” Lawrence said. “We have a bunch of young players my age who are skilled. We’re just kind of building together — next year we’ll be really good and the year after that we’ll be contenders for sure.”