NORTH ANDOVER — When Jackson Bales arrived at Merrimack this past summer, it was giant step in his hockey career. Bales had never played away from home, growing up in Oakville, Ontario and then skating three seasons for the Oakville Blades in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, captaining the team this past season.
“It was awesome playing in my hometown,” said Bales, who is currently out of the lineup with a lower-body injury. “I had a pretty different junior hockey experience than most guys. All of the other freshmen were away from home. It was unreal. I never had to worry, because the team really loved having Oakville guys in the organization. They went out of their way to nurture us as players and make sure we felt comfortable. It was a really great situation and I developed a lot there as a player.”
Bales, who turned 20 years old this past August, grew up watching the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada with his dad, and said that’s what first piqued his interest in the sport.
In 2013, Bales was playing minor midget hockey for the Brampton 45’s and didn’t expect to hear his name called in the OHL Draft. But, the Saginaw Spirit drafted him in the eighth round. Even then, as a 16 year old, Bales said he was leaning towards college hockey, and a big reason for that was the opportunity to develop.
“I wasn’t expected to be in the discussion for the OHL Draft,” he said. “Then the way the minor midget year played out, I got picked in the OHL but I always knew I wanted to go to college. I was an undersized guy growing up, so jumping into the OHL at a younger age would have been a mistake for me. Going Jr. A and then going to college, and having more years to develop, that’s what I felt was best for me.”
Bales served as captain of the Blades last season, and said he prides himself on being a good two-way forward. Currently injured, Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said last week there’s hope the Warriors will see Bales back in the lineup this season, but did say the injury was more “longer-term.”
“I’m definitely a two-way forward and I take a lot of pride in the defensive zone,” Bales said. “Growing up, I was never the most offensive player, so that was my way contributing to the team, making sure I was responsible everywhere on the ice.
“For me personally, being successful in hockey is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s huge to have four years here at Merrimack to develop and work on my game.”
Bales finished last season with 64 points (28g, 36a) in 51 games for the Blades. He appeared in 145 games for his hometown team over parts of four seasons, totaling 124 points (49g, 75a). Bales also delivered in the postseason, appearing in 38 OJHL playoff games and scoring 16 goals while adding nine assists.
Bales was attracted to Merrimack’s smaller campus as well as the culture around the hockey program.
“I was talking to some other schools, but the big thing for me was just the attention to detail,” he said. “It’s a smaller school, I loved how the coaching staff treated me and the culture around the hockey program. They are training us to be great hockey players and great men, and that’s something my parents have instilled in my since I was young. There’s a lot of focus on hockey, but also there’s a huge focus on bettering us as individuals.”