The first time I saw Josh Ho-Sang live, he did something really stupid. It was the round robin of the minor midget OHL Cup. Ho-Sang was playing for a loaded Toronto Marlboros team that also featured Connor McDavid, Sam Bennett and Roland McKeown (Dylan Strome and Mitchell Stephens were underaged “extras”). The opponent was a weak all-star squad from Northern Ontario and one of the big boys knocked Ho-Sang over, well after the whistle. Not cool. But Ho-Sang’s response was to take a double-handed axe swing at the kid’s feet, narrowly missing him. Ho-Sang landed himself a one-game suspension for the incident, but came back to help the Marlies to the final, where they lost in overtime to Robby Fabbri’s Mississauga Rebels.
Which is a long way of saying that Ho-Sang has been courting controversy for as long as anyone can remember. But Tuesday night, the talented right winger potted his first NHL goal in his fourth appearance for the New York Islanders, an organization that has taken more than its share of chances on prospects in the Garth Snow era.
Sure, the GM could have given up on Ho-Sang when the youngster slept through his alarm clock and showed up late for his first day of Isles training camp in 2015, but Snow didn’t do that. Yeah, New York cut Ho-Sang right away, sending him back to junior, but the organization didn’t close the door on his future.
Before that, there were the constant snubs from Hockey Canada, which caused Ho-Sang to lash out in the press when he wasn’t invited to the summer world junior camp in 2014.
Before that, there were the questions about where he would go in the draft, based not on his sublime offensive skills, but on the way he deployed them – some thought he was too much of an “individual” and could end up like Robbie Schremp.
Heck, Ho-Sang wasn’t even safe when the Islanders called him up from AHL Bridgeport: some folks were clucking about the fact he chose to wear No. 66 with the Islanders – despite Ho-Sang’s assurance that he was donning it because Mario Lemieux was such an inspiration.
So yeah, Ho-Sang has been a magnet for headlines. And while the frequency of incidents is greater than most other hockey players, I could never shake the feeling that Ho-Sang was getting a raw deal from a culture that only praises the quiet-but-burning-inside personality. I’ve spoken with Ho-Sang on several occasions over the years and he’s a really outgoing kid. Sure, maybe he talks too much for some, but it doesn’t seem to be coming from anywhere disingenuous; he’s just really honest – sometimes to his own detriment. Plenty of other players have missed curfews or come in to work late – Cam Talbot did it recently; so did Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan last season – and it hasn’t affected their standing. They were already NHLers, so perhaps they get more leeway, but it’s not much of a difference, really.
What I do see in Ho-Sang is a talented player who needed time to mature and develop, and he did so in Bridgeport. Ho-Sang was one of the Sound Tigers’ leading scorers when he got called up, which is pretty good for a rookie pro.
Now, as the Islanders keep their heads above water in the wild Eastern Conference playoff race, Ho-Sang is getting the opportunity to contribute in pressure-packed games. I think it’s pretty significant that coach Doug Weight gave the kid a chance to run point on the power play – and that Ho-Sang rewarded him by scoring against his old buddy McDavid and the Oilers.
The Islanders are well-known as one of the most unpredictable franchises in hockey, but sometimes that can pay dividends. Snow may have gambled on Ho-Sang, but the kid is up now and getting a shot to prove himself. That’s all a player can ask for.