Cheswick native Miles Liberati contributing for OHL's London Knights

| Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 12:12 a.m.

In his first season in the Ontario Hockey League, Cheswick native Miles Liberati has made quite a name for himself.

Liberati, 17, overcame some early-season struggles to earn a starting role with the London Knights.

“It started off a little rough; I wasn't playing much,” said Liberati, a defenseman drafted by London in the third round of the 2011 OHL draft who joined the team this year after attending The Hill Academy, a Canadian prep school. “I had to keep a positive attitude. Then, one of our other defensemen got suspended for a fight he was in, and I got the call to play.

“That's when I kind of found my game.”

Liberati, who is 6-foot, 195 pounds, had nine points and was a plus-5 in 42 regular-season games for London, which is the top seed in the OHL playoffs.

They took their opening series, 4-0, over the Saginaw Spirit and will play the Kitchener Rangers in the conference semifinals beginning Friday.

Liberati is focused on winning the OHL championship but could be on his way to bigger things.

He is eligible for the NHL Draft this year. A smooth-skating, puck-moving defender, Liberati is ranked the 88th-best non-goalie prospect in North America by NHL Central Scouting.

The service ranks players from around the world based on how likely they are to excel at hockey's highest level.

“It was cool,” Liberati said of his ranking. “I heard they came out, and I was looking for my friends (to see where they were ranked), and then I saw that they had ranked me too.

“If I'm lucky enough to get drafted I'll probably stay in the OHL, and they'll monitor my progress and see if I'm ready for the AHL and then hopefully the NHL.”

Liberati said playing in the OHL has given him a feel for what a career in pro hockey feels like.

“You learn what it takes to make it and be in the lineup,” he said. “Every night, there are four or five guys scratched. It's a battle.”

Liberati said he models his game after two great defenseman: former Detroit Red Wing Nick Lidstrom and current Los Angeles King Drew Doughty.

“Drew Doughty skated with us during the (NHL) lockout,” Liberati said. “He lives in London and skated with us to stay in shape. I didn't even realize it was him at first, until someone said, ‘that's Drew Doughty.'

“I learned a lot from him.”

Liberati attended Central Catholic for two years before moving to Canada to chase his dream of playing in the NHL. He honed his game for local organizations like the Junior Penguins and the Viper Stars.

Liberati admits to being a little homesick when he first moved to Ontario.

“This year, I only got to come home twice,” he said. “But my dad (Dan) comes up three or four times a month with my brothers (Mario and Roman). My mom (Carin) doesn't make it up as much because she has to teach.”

Liberati said he's still a Penguins fan and follows the team as much as possible.

“I'm pretty excited about the (Jarome) Iginla trade,” he said.

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer.

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