Cody Ceci adds another storybook chapter to what is shaping up to be a charmed career
Cody Ceci (R) of the Ottawa Senators celebrates his overtime game winning goal with Milan Michalek against the St. Louis Blues in NHL action at Canadian Tire Centre, December 16, 2013.
Photograph by: Jean Levac, Ottawa Citizen
Senators winger Bobby Ryan said the events of the evening could have been scripted for the kid.
But who would have bought it, this story of local teenager Cody Ceci scoring the overtime winner in his hometown team’s hour of need, a desperately-needed 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues Monday?
It was the first time in the 21-year history of the Ottawa franchise that a Senators player scored his first career NHL goal in overtime, as though only a local product and lifetime Senators fan could be worthy of the honour.
That Ceci was originally an emergency callup from the American Hockey League last Thursday, and drove up from Binghamton N.Y. on the day of a game against the Buffalo Sabres, is just part of what makes this a reality TV natural.
Let’s start with early scenes: a nine-year-old, gap-toothed Cody from east-end Orleans standing beside one of his NHL heroes, Mike Fisher, during a team skills competition 10 years ago.
And of course, there would have to be footage of a 12-, 13-year-old Cody hanging around the OHL Ottawa 67’s room at the Civic Centre with his hockey pal, Alan Quine, scooping autographs of Jamie McGinn and other 67’s players, young Cody never dreaming he’d one day play for the team and be signing his own name for fans.
From there, it was a fast track to stardom for this boy among men, now handsome and fully grown at 6-3, 209 pounds, playfully pulling back the wavy hair of a young Elvis.
With a late December birthday, Cody was just 15 when he first played for the 67’s, baby-faced, quiet among the older teens and 20-year-olds, who teased him if the movie on the team bus had an age rating higher than 14-plus.
Even then, a flair for the dramatic came naturally, as though this defenceman saved his goals for the most special of occasions.
His first junior goal was a game winner – against the Windsor Spitfires. A sure-fire first rounder, big and smooth, capable of running a power play, Ceci became an Ottawa Senator at the 2012 draft despite general manager Bryan Murray’s failed attempts at trading up to select him higher.
“I honestly never thought he’d be available at 15 (overall),” Murray said.
It’s the rarest of doubles: Ceci gets drafted twice, in the OHL and then NHL, both times by the local club.
Now, in this 2013-14 season, his first as a professional, Ceci has scored three goals and each came in overtime. On Oct. 5, wearing the colours of the AHL Binghamton Senators, Ceci scored the OT winner against the Syracuse Crunch, then he repeated the feat Nov. 9 against Rochester.
His parents, mother Karen, a former figure skater, and father Parri, a standout football player at the University of Guelph, were in the stands for all three first goals – with the 67’s, Bingo Sens and Ottawa Senators.
That last one was the shot heard around the region – with 61 seconds left in overtime against the St. Louis Blues, Ceci whipped a wrist shot from the point that soared over the right shoulder of former Senators goaltender Brian Elliott.
Calling the goal on the TSN 1200 radio broadcast was none other than Dave ‘The Voice’ Schreiber, who called so many of Ceci’s junior games with the 67’s. As the Voice erupted, so did a hometown crowd, including Ceci’s family and friends, some wondering if this might be the magical moment – the occasion of Ceci’s first NHL goal – that will turn this aimless season around.
“It’s your first, so you’ll remember that one for the rest of your life,” Ceci said Tuesday from the Senators dressing room, as the team packed up for Wednesday’s game in New Jersey. “Hopefully there’s more to come.”
Call it an early Christmas present or birthday gift – Ceci turns 20 on Dec. 21.
Watching four of his best pals, partying half-naked in the stands, the letters C-E-C-I painted on their bare chests, reminded everyone just how young a man is Cody Ceci. There but for the grace of God, could be Ceci himself – a college kid cutting loose.
“I hope not,” he says, laughing, “but it looked like they were having fun and they were getting the crowd into it . . . it’s great to see them come out and support me. They’re all good guys, but they get a bit crazy at times.”
No crazier than the events of the past week for Ceci, who spent most of Monday night post-game thanking everyone for the congratulation messages via Twitter, Facebook and text, before falling to sleep, exhausted.
Senators head coach Paul MacLean joked that the region “might have to rename the highway to Orleans” in Ceci’s honour. One fan suggested the Ceci Highway ought to be reachable via one of the J.G. Pageau Gatineau bridges MacLean dedicated to another young Senators player last spring, following a playoff hat trick.
Though he’s always imagined this day, playing in the NHL, growing up Ceci didn’t emulate a particular player.
“Instead of watching games, we’d just be playing it ourselves, road hockey or on the backyard rink,” he says. “I wasn’t a big TV guy so I didn’t watch that much hockey growing up. I was enjoying my time outside.”
When it was time to wear the team colours, though, it was always the red, white and black of the hometown team, a franchise finally old enough to have seen a boyhood fan become a Senators player.
“When I go home to sleep, I’ve got a Sens rug and a Sens jumbotron light in my room,” Ceci says. “I don’t know if it’s time to change that or what. It’s getting a little weird.”
Ceci’s life has become so weird, or maybe wired, that he has to now calm down again before his next NHL game, in New Jersey.
“I’m sure he’s like a duck, the feet underneath him are probably going pretty good,” MacLean said. “But he’s played with poise and that’s good to see in a young player.
As he left town, the man of the hour vowed to stay composed.
“I just have to keep working hard,” Ceci said. “Soak it all in but don’t let it overwhelm me.”
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen