By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
Matthew Savoie and Conor Geekie knew they were in the midst of something special.
The star centres for the Winnipeg Ice — one an elusive offensive threat, the other a hulking force — spent the Western Hockey League season battling for their team.
The pair was also competing against one another.
Savoie sits as NHL Central Scouting’s fourth-ranked North American skater heading into Thursday’s first round of the 2022 draft, while Geekie is slotted in at No. 5.
It was a unique situation both players embraced.
“We really support each other,” Savoie said. “He’s a guy that I can always go to if I have any concerns, and vice versa.”
“We know what the stakes are,” Geekie added. “But we’re both really good at just having fun.”
The five-foot-nine, 170-pound Savoie finished with 35 goals and a team-leading 90 points in 2021-22 for the Ice, who made it to the third round of the WHL playoffs. The six-foot-four, 190-pound Geekie put up 24 goals and 70 points.
Savoie added 12 points in 10 post-season games — he missed five due to injury — and Geekie had 11 in his 15 contests this spring.
NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr said the pair possess both unique attributes and similar characteristics.
“Savoie likes to have the puck on his stick. He can generate plays and finish,” Marr said. “Geekie’s more the guy where he’s there at the right time, right place. He knows how to navigate through traffic, protect the puck, get open and bury the chances in his own way.
“Two different style players, but they’re both front-door, to-the-net types.”
Like every draft prospect, the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges. It was no different for Savoie and Geekie.
But similar to how they cut different figures on the ice, the duo took different routes in 2020-21.
Savioe decided to head south with junior hockey’s ability to play in Canada very much in doubt because of health and safety restrictions.
“Was lucky to find a way around that and go to the USHL to continue my development, get on the ice a lot down there and get those guaranteed games,” said the St. Albert, Alta., native, who suited up with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in Iowa. “That was huge for me last year when most of (the Canadian Hockey League) didn’t play.
“I thought that was big development-wise for me.”
Geekie, on the other hand, decided to stay put and use the break to his advantage.
“Me being a big guy growing up, it was always hard to catch up to my body and gain strength,” said the native of Strathclair, Man. “I got the chance to work out and get bigger and get stronger and do a lot of skating on the outdoor rink.”
Geekie’s old brother Morgan, a 2017 third-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes and now a centre for the Seattle Kraken, was also back home for a stretch. Without much else to do, the siblings spent time training on an outdoor rink under their dad’s watchful eye.
“Basically my whole family just doing drills,” Conor Geekie, who did get a total of 24 WHL games in 2020-21, said with a laugh. “That really benefited me coming into this season.
“It gave me another chance to catch up to everyone.”
Morgan Geekie also built a gym in the garage of the family home that was put to good use.
“We got the heater going,” Conor said. “It was definitely cold some days. But that’s where memories are made.
“Morgan, I can really go to about anything. He’s been through the ups and downs. A lot of people didn’t know him as a player growing up. He was a later draft pick. He brings a lot of character to me with just how humble he is.”
Savoie also had older brother Carter, a 2020 fourth-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers, to lean on during the pandemic and as he prepared for the draft.
“When (Carter) was going through this, he’d come home after a game and tell me how his interview went, the things that they talked about, what he’s saying to teams,” Matt Savoie said.
“Having a guy like that go through it before you that you’re so close to is huge.”
Savoie and Geekie have also grown to appreciate each other’s skill sets — especially when they skated together for the Ice.
“He’s the speedy, small forward and I was the more shooting, big forward,” Geekie said. “A great player and just fun to be around.”
Savoie said his fellow 18-year-old’s ability to use that big frame to possess the puck in the offensive zone is impressive.
“The plays he makes, his shot are next level — the way he can release it and the power he has behind it,” he said of Geekie. “A lot of skill … a smart player.”
They’ll likely end up in different NHL organizations, but both expect the bond forged navigating a pressure-packed, rollercoaster draft year together will remain strong.
“We’re pretty close friends,” Geekie said. “More so now than ever.”
“Our relationship is pretty special, going through it at the same time, being able to experience it together,” Savoie added. “I just have so much support for him.
“And I know that’s coming right back to me.”