The McLean & Dickey Orillia Terriers are off to a blazing start in Provincial Junior Hockey League action this year, winning Sunday to improve their record to 9-2-0; they currently sit in first place in the North Carruthers Division.
A big reason for their success is the play of, and leadership from, captain Dylan Palomaki, who has tallied five goals and added eight assists so far this season.
Born and raised in Innisfil, Palomaki started playing hockey in the Timbits program when he was three years old.
"My dad always had a love for the game," he explained. "It kind of grew on me from watching hockey with him and playing in the driveway."
Palomaki, who is now 20, quickly fell in love with the game because of the camaraderie that comes with being a part of a team.
"I love the atmosphere of having all of my teammates around me," he said. "I've met so many good people and developed so many great friendships through hockey."
Since he began playing, Palomaki has always chased the feeling that comes with scoring a goal.
"The cheering and everything going on in the background is a really good feeling," he said. "It's hard to even explain, my body just rushes with adrenaline, and it feels like I'm on top of the world."
Palomaki, a forward, began playing rep hockey with seven- and eight-year-old kids when he was six. The next year he began playing with the AAA Barrie Colts where he played until his U16 year. In his final season with the Colts, Palomaki suffered his first major injury, a broken clavicle.
"It was an open-ice hit, and my shoulder came down and snapped my clavicle," he said. "It was an odd feeling."
The injury put Palomaki on the shelf for the rest of that season and the ensuing playoffs.
"It was awful," he said. "I watched every shift of every game wishing I was out there to help make a difference."
Growing up, it was always Palomaki's dream to make the NHL. The injury shifted his thinking for the first time.
"At that point, I checked into reality," he said. "I realized I wasn't going to the NHL and it was time to figure out what I was going to do for the next little bit and where the hockey road was going to take me."
The next season, Palomaki joined the North Central Predators, headquartered in Rama, where he scored 27 points in 32 games. He played alongside Liam McDonald, the son of Terriers' president Andrew McDonald, who invited him to join the Jr. C squad with only 10 games remaining in the 2021-22 season.
"I went out for a few skates and all of the guys were great," Palomaki recalls. "I decided Orillia was going to be home for the next little bit."
While Palomaki had other offers to play at higher levels up north, he says Orillia was the best place for him to balance his work and social life with hockey.
"It's a very welcoming environment in Orillia," he explained. "It felt like home right off the hop."
In just his second year with the Terriers, Palomaki was named the captain of the team.
"I think I was named captain because I lead by example," he said. "I leave everything on the ice; I grind, get in the corners, and do all of the little things to be a good player."
Palomaki, a graduate of St. Peter's Catholic Secondary School in Barrie, says he learned his leadership skills while playing lacrosse as he was growing up.
"It gave me a little bit of a jump in the right direction for being a leader," he said. "I learned how to make sure everybody was clicking together and feeling comfortable."
Both of Palomaki's first two seasons with the Terriers ended in second-round playoff heartbreak.
"They were two tough Game 7 losses and one of them was in our barn," he recalled. "We are trying to look past it this year, preparing ourselves, and putting ourselves in the best position to not have that happen again."
Palomaki says the playoff failures were "heartbreaking" for him, but that feeling of disappointment is what drives him and fuels his desire to succeed.
"We don't want that feeling again," he said. "We are playing every game to set ourselves up to not be in that position again."
This year's Terriers' team is a "resilient" group that fans can be excited about, Palomaki says.
"We have a lot of hard-working guys," he said. "We have four lines of grinders, goal scorers, and great players."
Palomaki has two seasons left with the Terriers to chase the Clarence Schmalz Cup.
Outside of hockey, Palomaki works for INTUS Construction as an underground driller.
"It's good for now," he said. "We will see where the road takes me."
Palomaki's dream is to travel to Europe and Western Canada to work as a photographer and videographer.
"I would love to do travel shoots and stuff like that," he said. "I think that would be really cool."
Palomaki also hopes to one day visit Guyana, where his mother’s roots are, and Finland and Sweden, where his dad grew up.
"I definitely want to make my way there for sure," he said. "I'm kind of not set in stone with anything yet, just kind of seeing where life takes me."