Mike Kelly, vice-president and general manager of the Guelph Storm, has no problem acknowledging a soft spot for the north. Over the years, he's had good reason.
"Hockey runs deep in this community," he said shortly after addressing players and parents alike at the NOHA Program of Excellence Development Camp over the weekend. "I love coming here."
"On a per-capita basis, I think hockey is more important in these northern communities than it would be in southern Ontario."
Since his start with the Storm back in 1991, Kelly has seen a lot of hockey.
Scouting with the Calgary Flames, jumping back to the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires, travelling overseas to Europe with Hockey Club Alleghe in Italy, Kelly has watched the growth of the sport world wide.
Still, when it comes to drafting young talent for the junior ranks, he maintains that not all that much has changed.
"From a hockey standpoint, the players are probably a little stronger, a little more skilled," he said.
"But quite frankly, when you get them in our office for the first time, they're just as apt to be homesick, just as apt to have anxieties about school. I think the kids are basically the same as they were 25 years ago."
When it comes to northern talent, Kelly has come full circle. In 1991, the Storm drafted Todd Bertuzzi with their first-round selection.
The Sudbury talent would go on to score more than 110 goals at the junior hockey level, including 54 in his final year before being selected in the first round of the NHL draft by the New York Islanders.
In 2011, Kelly surprised some by going back to the well, drafting Todd's nephew, Tyler Bertuzzi, in the fourth round of the 2011 OHL draft.
Earlier this summer, the local product was selected in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, despite recording just 20 goals at the junior hockey level, to date, in two seasons of play.
"He was a hot commodity," said Kelly. "Of all the calls I was taking in the last two months leading up to the draft, he was the hot topic. He had been injured during the year and was underexposed.
"Everybody sees the passion and the willingness to run through people to do the dirty work, but his instincts with the puck, under pressure, are very good. For two seasons in a row, in the playoffs, when the hockey gets ramped up by 25 per cent, he's played his best hockey.
"He made his best decisions in an awful lot of traffic. He's just a 'hockey player,' and that's a real compliment to him."
Still, Kelly was caught just as off-guard as most hockey observers when Bertuzzi climbed all the way up to Round 2 in late June.
"I thought there was an 80-per-cent chance that he was going to be a third-round pick and probably 20 per cent that somehow, he might get to the fourth round," Kelly said.
"But when you have that many teams showing interest in the third round, it's probably not that big a surprise that somebody stepped up and jumped in if they really wanted to kid."