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Meet the Tampa Bay native looking to land with his hometown Lightning






by Erik Erlendsson |  @Erik_Erlendsson |  Like us on Facebook
September 26, 2021

BRANDON – The path to the NHL starts in many different regions around the globe.

No two are ever the same. And no path has ever started from the sandy beaches of Pinellas County.

Avery Winslow hopes to be the first to make that journey. The latest stop for the 19-year-old landed him at training camp with the hometown team, Tampa Bay Lightning.

It’s a journey that started in St. Pete Beach and has wound through the streets of Tampa, the plains of Canada, the middle of Washington state and into the rigors of the Ontario Hockey League.

One day, Winslow hopes the path brings him back home to live out a childhood dream and, in the process, become the first Tampa native to skate in the National Hockey League.

“I grew up in this town and I have nothing but love for the Lightning,” Winslow said. “I always watched them.”

His dedication and commitment to the game he fell in love with while attending games at Amalie Arena has already pushed him this far. The dream is within reach.

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As a free agent training camp invitee, the road to Amalie Arena looks more like a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro at the moment. But it wasn’t that long ago that the thought of a kid from the Tampa Bay area embarking on a career in hockey.

And Winslow is already on that cusp, wearing a Lightning jersey in an NHL training camp miles from where he grew up.

“I think it’s amazing and I think he’s done well,” Lightning assistant coach Derek Lalonde said. “I think it’s a huge credit and says something about where Florida hockey has come and evolved. It’s not an accident that it’s come with the success of the Lightning and the Florida Panthers. I think it’s really neat to see one example here and I’ve enjoyed taking some time to talk to him and learn the route to where he’s at.”

The route started as Winslow gravitated to the game around the age of six, following behind older brothers, Arthur and Zac, who both started to play after the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004. 

By the time hockey started to become more than just a recreational thought and travel teams were taking up all the family’s weekend time, Winslow was playing for the Tampa Scorpions under former Lightning forward Vinny Prospal, playing out of Xtreme Ice, a rink his father Doug, helped build off Sligh Avenue just north of the Tampa Airport.

Winslow always played up in age group. The sheet at Xtra Ice is shorter and more narrow than a normal sheet. Both aspects pushed his game and allowed him more touches with the puck on the smaller rink. As the Scorpions started winning national championships, Winslow was a big part of that success.

As his game continued to evolve and improve, the family was faced with a decision no different than so many others around North America as he reached his teenage years – if he’s going to continue on this path, and hockey was the passion, he was going to have to leave home to take the next step.

But leaving home for, say a kid from Toronto, is not the same as a kid departing Florida. And some of the top prep programs in the game were both in pursuit, Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minnesota and the famed Notre Dame Academy in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, in Canada.

Imagine being a parent, in Florida, considering shipping your son 2,300 miles away to play hockey in the prairie lands of the Canadian plains.

So parents Tracy and Doug put forth this challenge – if he wanted to do this, if hockey meant that much, he was going to have to complete two years of schooling before he left.

“We kind of told him, if you do that, then it shows us you really want it,” Tracy Winslow said.

Avery didn’t hesitate in agreeing to the parameters of the deal. A tutor was hired and Winslow was home schooled. He passed all his requirements and in the span of a year, moved up two grades. He showed his parents how much he wanted it.

“He showed us, so we were like, OK, he really wants to do this,” Tracy Winslow said. 

The next step was off at the age of 14 to the famed Notre Dame Academy, the renowned hockey school that has seen the likes of Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Barry Trotz and even Lightning head coach Jon Cooper walk the hallways. It was a chance to take his game to the next level, learn from some of the best and understand the road he was traveling would not be easy.

“I wanted him to get the adversity,” Doug Winslow said. “It’s cold there, it’s windy, it’s in the middle of nowhere. And if this is what you want, and you want hockey, you are going to get hockey 100-percent of the time. We’re going to see if you like hockey as much as you think you like hockey.”

It’s certainly a long way from the sun and the sand of the Gulf Coast of Florida. The average high in Wilcox during the winter hovers around 19-degree Fahrenheit and the average low is below zero. But the hockey, well, the hockey is great.

“It was definitely a big change, you kind of get homesick a couple of times but after a couple of months you kind of get used to it,” Winslow said. “You just fall into the hockey, your brain just stays focused on the hockey and you don’t really miss anything. It was a lot more competitive and everyone there wants it, everyone there wants to get to the next level so they are all committed every day to the little things. It was a bit of a hockey change (but) even off the ice, even character wise, that school did a lot for me learning how to live on my own. There are a lot of deep roots there that taught us a lot on and off the ice.”

After two years at Notre Dame, Winslow left for the British Columbia Hockey League and the Wenatchee Wild, which sits halfway between Seattle and Spokane in Washington state. His Ontario Hockey League rights belonged to the London Knights, who drafted Winslow in the fifth round of the 2018 OHL Priority Draft, so the next step in the journey led him to London for his 17-year-old season, his draft year.

But after 28 games with the Knights, Winslow was traded to the North Bay Battalion on January 10, 2020. He appeared in 12 games before the pandemic hit and the OHL was shut down. Since then, Winslow had just four games of competitive action in the USPHL as he also recovered from hip surgery to repair a torn labrum. Just another step on the journey.

“That’s when, as a parent, you are not sure this is all worth it,” Doug Winslow said. “Your kid is laying there and all that therapy to get back. But he just always had a smile on his face and he was ready to go. As soon as he was cleared, he headed down to South Florida . . . and all the skills Avery didn’t have, they harped on every day and he just improved every day. The pandemic hurt him from a draft perspective, and the hip, but he just kept grinding.”

Winslow attended the OHL Showcase event held in Erie, Ohio, earlier this summer ahead of the draft but for the second consecutive year he was passed over. Shortly after the draft, however, he received a call from the Lightning inviting him to the team’s prospect camp that extended to an invite to training camp.

The invite was not made as a public relations move, as he was on Tampa Bay’s draft list in July, but they didn’t have many picks to make.

“Avery was a guy that stood out to us the last year and a half in the CHL,” said Al Murray, Lightning assistant general manager and head of amateur scouting. “Nothing about his game is elite, but everything about his game is good. Then he works real hard and has a real good attitude and we thought that’s the kind of guy we want to bring in here. The fact that he was local adds to the flavor a little bit. Because of the last year and half, do we know any of the guys really well, no, but he has some of the attributes we like and we’re happy to have him here.”

All those attributes figure to serve him well, with his expected return to North Bay once the season begins. And he’s expected to have a significant role with the Battalion.

“What you get with Avery is a super competitive player,” North Bay head coach Ryan Oulahen said. “I say he has that fast twitch ability where he can close down space quickly and he can defend extremely well because of it. His feet are very impressive which allows him to get up in the play and join the rush as well. Then, his best attribute, is what we like to call a first option player, he makes those simple little quick plays that a lot of players might have trouble with. He analyzes the play real quickly and make those quick plays. He’s probably somebody the forwards like being on the ice with because they know they are going to get the puck real quick and transition into the offense.”

Assuming Winslow does return to North Bay, his outgoing personality, magnetic charisma and his attributes on the ice will make him a key player this coming season.

“He’s going to play a massive role for us,” Oulahen said. “He’s one of a few veteran defensemen that we have in our lineup so he’s going to be relied upon right away to be one of the leaders back there, to play in all situations of our game including against other team’s top players, power play, penalty kill, you name it. He’s going to get tapped quite a bit in jumping over the boards to get after it.”

While gaining experience, hanging around and NHL camp, learning from an NHL coaching staff, playing alongside and against NHL players in training camp, is the biggest part of his experience this week, it’s more than just that. With four preseason games in the next five days coming up, Winslow is vying for the chance to get into a game. He’s also seeking the chance to earn a contract, if not with Tampa Bay, then with another team that might be watching.

From those who have been watching, Winslow has done nothing to hurt his case through four days of prospect camp, three games in the prospect tournament and four days of training camp, which included two intrasquad scrimmages matched up at times against the the Lightning’s top line of Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.

There’s a long way to go, but Winslow has done everything he can to put his best skate forward.

“He’s adjusted very well,” Lalonde said. “He can skate and he thinks very well. Even the first practice (Sunday) morning, we introduced some new structure to some of the guys and he had no hesitation. His hockey sense, he was quick to everything he did and thinks it well. It’s really great to see and a huge credit. And he’s not here by accident. I think he’s going to have a really good year in the CHL, he’s going to be knocking on the door for an NHL free agent signing. And locally, I’ll be rooting for him going forward.”



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