A rising hockey star from Bay Roberts is headed to the big leagues.
The New Jersey Devils chose Dawson Mercer as their first-round draft pick in Tuesday's NHL draft, with Mercer going 18th overall.
"I was just so excited when I heard my name finally called, and I don't think there was a better moment of that feeling in my hockey career yet," Mercer told reporters after the big announcement.
Mercer, who turns 19 later this month, has had a stellar career so far.
In January, as part of Team Canada, he earned a gold medal in the World Junior Hockey Championships. That success came amid noteworthy performances in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the Drummondville Voltigeurs and the Chicoutimi Saguenéens.
Amid a very different sort of draft, one delayed for months by the pandemic and then held largely virtually, Mercer took part from Chicoutimi, with his family flying out from Newfoundland to take it all in.
"They made the trip up, flew up, to spend it with me, which was what I really wanted the most," Mercer said.
We're just so happy and proud. - Bo Bennett, uncle and coach
As teams picked players and the numbers crept into the teens, Mercer said, the suspense mounted. He wasn't certain where he would end up, having been in talks and interviews with several teams.
"When New Jersey finally called my name at 18, I was pretty pumped and excited, because it's a great organization to go to. They have a lot of young prospects, and I think the team has a bright future ahead of them," he said.
Stanley Cup dreams
Mercer has been dreaming about the bright lights of the NHL for a long time, since he saw Daniel Cleary of Harbour Grace become the first Newfoundlander to win a Stanley Cup.
Mercer was not even seven years old, but said he vividly remembers Cleary bringing the cup back home.
"I was pretty young at the time, and just seeing the cup down there when I was on the side of the road, it just made you want to push and push and push," he said.
While clearly talented, Mercer had a team of people helping push him toward his hockey goals — and helping him celebrate the draft pick.
Among them was his former coach, and uncle, Bo Bennett, who connected with Mercer and his family via FaceTime to watch Tuesday's draft.
When Mercer's name was called, said Bennett, the entire house shook, alerting the neighbours.
"We went crazy," said Bennett. "They heard the howls and the screams coming out of our house.… We're just so happy and proud."
Bennett, still feeling "like a kid at Christmas" Wednesday morning, said he has no doubt Mercer will rise to the challenge ahead of him in the NHL.
"When you're a first-rounder at any level, whether it's major junior hockey or NHL or anywhere else, you get that opportunity," he said, "and when he gets that opportunity, he's always performed, at every level."
With the draft behind him, Mercer is keeping his dreams big.
"The next step is to make the NHL roster spot with New Jersey, and I'll hopefully win the Stanley Cup in the future," he said.
With Tuesday night's first round over, the NHL 2020 draft continues Wednesday.