The first thing one tends to notice about Joey Szabo is his speed.
But fast footwork is far from the only reason he’s been quick to win over coaches and teammates.
“He brings leadership … Joey’s a team-first guy who does all the little things,” explained highly-accomplished lacrosse player/coach Shawn Williams, who after coaching against Szabo for a number of years was only too happy to be on the same side as him for the Team Ontario Under-15 field squad and for last summer’s provincial midget box team — both of which went on to enjoy national supremacy. “He gives a champion’s attitude and effort. My first impression of Joey was that he was by far the hardest working player on the field.”
It’s endorsements like that why the 16-year-old Miltonian didn’t have to wait long to hear his name called in the recent Ontario Jr. A box lacrosse draft.
Though originally expected to be taken by Burlington with the third pick, Szabo wound up going one spot later to the Mimico Mountaineers after the Chiefs traded down.
The turn of events suits the transition standout just fine — for obvious reasons.
“I’m happy with how the draft went. Having played (minor) in Mimico, I’ve got a lot of friends there that I’ll be reconnecting with.”
Introduced to the game at the tender age of three through father John, the Milton District High School 11th grader didn’t need much of a parental push to embrace Canada’s national sport.
“I liked all the contact and speed,” recalled the five-foot-nine, 155-pounder, who’s looking at transferring to a prep school in New York or Connecticut next year as a bridge to a possible future in the NCAA. Before that he’ll join a Mountaineers team that should have a strong nucleus of returning players from last year’s team that jumped up six spots in the Ontario Jr. A standings over 2015 — finishing at 12-8. “I loved it right away.”
And success quickly followed suit.
Szabo helped his dad’s novice Mavericks claim Ontario ‘C’ gold in 2007, while his three times suiting up for Team Ontario — the first in the peewee field ranks in 2012 — have all met with golden finishes.
His tenacious play has earned him the captain’s C with a number of teams over the years, while last month he picked up several team awards with the Mimico midgets, including the coveted Shawn Browne award for best defensive player.
Though known primarily for his knack for shutting down the opposition, Szabo noted that extensive work with Mimico coach Jonny Grimes — including plenty of two-on-two and screen drills — has helped him fine-tune his offensive skills in the past year or so.
“I’ve had a lot of good coaches, like Jonny and Shawn (Williams), who’ve really helped me,” stressed the Jr. A first-round draft pick, who’s played rep hockey in the past and has established himself as an offensive cornerstone with the football Mustangs.
And while he’s been described by a number of coaches as someone who ‘plays with a chip on his shoulder,’ Szabo is quick to clarify that that’s not about any deep-seeded aggression.
“I just want my opponents to remember me (after every shift).”
Safe to say, they usually do.