NHL Rookie shares inspiring story of grit and determination


Douglas — Pembroke’s Tye Felhaber had a career year with the Ottawa 67s this past season, leading his team to a berth in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) finals that culminated with him signing a three-year contract with the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League (NHL) this past March.
Last Monday night, he was the guest speaker at Opeongo High School’s athletic banquet and he shared how his OHL career had taken many turns and resulted in him finally realizing the importance of making a full commitment to be the best he could be.
Co-emcee Alexa Gamache welcomed Felhaber, noting he was a Valley boy who grew up in the area and spent many summers working on his uncle’s farm on the Opeongo, or at Lavern Heideman and Sons sawmill, and spending his leisure time with family and friends at Lake Clear.
“He attended Bishop Smith High School but we like to think his roots are here at Opeongo as many of his cousins, aunts, uncles and even his dad (Joey) are Wildcat alumni,” she noted.
She shared how he had just wrapped up his final year in the OHL with the 67s, leading his team in points and was first in the entire league in plus/minus rating.
“He is now moving on to the next stage of his career and he has recently signed with the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League,” she said.
Felhaber thanked the committee for inviting him to speak, explaining he planned to talk about the ups and downs he experienced throughout his OHL journey.
“But in the end, it was all worth it,” he added.
He shared how, as a 15-year-old, the OHL draft day turned from excitement to shock when he was picked 10th overall by the Saginaw Spirit, the only one of the 20 teams he had told he wasn’t interested in playing with.
“It was just because it was so far away, and it wasn’t really a hockey city,” he said.
“My first, initial reaction, I was shocked; everyone was in shock.”
He spent the summer telling Saginaw officials he would not be signing with them, with all intentions to return to the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the CCHL, or hopefully be traded to another OHL team.
“Then, two weeks before camp, I agreed to go down for a visit. They showed me this big arena, this big, fancy house I was going to be living at, the high school.
“It was like American high schools with the outdoor lockers and it was pretty cool,” he added. “So I ended up signing there and went down there as a 16-year-old and really enjoyed my first year.”
He established a new rookie record for the team with 20 goals. Things were going well for him, he said, adding, jokingly, things were likely not going that well at school because the cheerleaders were a distraction.
When he returned to Canada after the season, TSN had him ranked as a possible Round 1 or 2 pick in the NHL entry draft that year.
“That kind of got into my head,” he admitted. “I was just a regular kid in the Valley in the summer and everyone here knows how it is.
“I was drinking beers by the lake and just having a good time, I was working with my uncle Louie. That was my workout. I wasn’t really going to the gym.”
Invited To Leafs Camp
When he returned to Saginaw in the fall at 17, they called him out for being out of shape and for not working on getting better in his time off.
“That was totally true, but I really didn’t understand that you had to work out in the summer.”
The year went “alright” in his words, but not as well as planned, adding he only put up a few more points in his season. That summer, he still expected to be picked in the NHL draft, but heard 215 names called without being selected.
“So that was a really tough moment for me,” he said. “I was really upset at the time and then the Toronto Maple Leafs called me and invited me to a camp, so I went down there.
“That was the year Auston Matthews was there, so I was roommates with him. I was really good buddies with him, Mitch Marner, Adam Brooks. I was doing pretty well at the NHL level and then they invited me back to the main camp and that’s where all the NHLers are.”
Other teammates were Morgan Reilly, Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozack.
“So it was just like a surreal experience for a kid from the Valley, putting on the Maple Leaf and being in the room with them,” he remarked. “I really enjoyed the moment, but I think I enjoyed it a little too much where I thought I was doing alright at the NHL level, so when I go back to junior, I’ll be fine.”
He spent that summer working between his uncle Louie and back at the mill, using that as his workouts, resulting in another wake-up call when he was 18 after Saginaw changed its entire staff, which, he learned about two weeks before training camp started.
“So I had to go and impress a bunch of new people again. I went in there, and they liked me as a person but not as a player because, again, I wasn’t really in the best shape.”
Eight games into the season he scored a goal and had an assist in only three-plus minutes of ice time, so he knew he was on the trading block and shortly afterwards, he was moved to the Ottawa 67s.
“It was a big moment in my career where I was really excited to be back in the Valley with all my buddies and my family. It was a lot closer than Saginaw.”
After 15 games, he was scoring regularly and had impressed the 67s staff, being back up to the level of the player he should have been.
“NHL teams were calling, very interested in me,” he said.
Sadly, in the next game, he was tripped while on a breakaway and slid hard into the boards, trying to break the impact with his hand that resulted in a severely broken wrist that put him out eight weeks with only six weeks to go in the regular season.
“It was a tough spot to be in because you can’t really help out your team and the NHL teams stopped calling because I was injured.”
With four games remaining and the teams fighting for a play-offs pot, he returned to the line-up early with some pretty good results.
“I felt like I was a good player again and I was back where I needed to be,” he remarked.
However, the entire coaching staff was dismissed that summer and he again had new people to impress that fall.
He met with the staff, who told him he was a great guy but he enjoyed the summers too much, so they presented him with a list of personal trainers and he had to pick one and move to Ottawa to commit to training or he’d be cut or traded. He moved to Ottawa at 18 and started training with Tony Greco, who trains other NHL athletes and he got in the best shape ever.
“I was in an older group of NHLers and they were all working this hard, so I figured I had to change my attitude and bear down,” he said. “They were really good role models.”
As a 19-year-old, he had a career year with 31 goals and 70 points, and was second on the team in scoring. When the season ended, he had a try-out with the Montreal Canadiens American Hockey League team and played eight games there.
“I felt like I was playing good, I was comfortable there, I felt like I was doing everything right, but they decided not to give me an NHL contract.”
That summer, he went undrafted again, but instead of feeling bad for himself, he pushed even harder to improve and to prove everyone wrong.
“And in my 20-year-old year (this past season) I had my best year and my team had the best year in the history of the franchise. I ended up getting 59 goals and 109 points and I came third in OHL scoring and fourth or fifth in the whole Canada Hockey League.
“For me, that was a proud moment, because there are 140 kids from the OHL that got invited to an NHL camp that summer and I wasn’t one of them, so for me to come third in scoring and fourth in all of Canada was pretty special.”
That type of production earned him the contract with the Dallas Stars, which was an amazing moment for he and his family.
“It just goes to show no matter how many people tell you, you’re not gong to make it or you’re not good enough, for me, I just worked really, really hard. It took me a little bit longer than the other guys, but now I can make a living off of playing hockey.”
He said he realized not everyone in the audience wants to be a hockey player, noting whatever career path they choose it will require hard work, no matter what their goal in life is.
“I just want everybody to know, if you really believe in it and really see yourself doing that as a career, you can achieve it,” he concluded.
Felhaber said he normally does not accept invitations to speak, but because it was Opeongo High School, where his dad and many aunts and uncles and cousins attended, he was really proud to attend and share his story. He said no matter where hockey has taken him, the best people in the world live right here in the Valley.
He left Sunday to attend a Stars camp in Dallas and find a place to live for next season.