Come up and see the north

Randy Russon
February 11, 2019

Contrary to what many of the scouts in southern Ontario might think, we do have indoor hockey rinks in northern Ontario towns such as Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, North Bay, New Liskeard, Timmins and Kapuskasing. Not only that, we also have our share of good hockey players up north.

Honest to goodness, we do.

Yes, Ontario Hockey League scouts, the game really does exist outside the Greater Toronto Area. And as noted, we even play our organized hockey league games indoors, not outdoors!

So, to those who are scouting and managing teams in the OHL, why not leave your blessed GTA for a weekend or two and head up our way to scout the various teams in the Great North Midget Hockey League and the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. Because not only do we have indoor rinks but we have our very own restaurants and hotel rooms that are heated. Oh yes, we do!

Sarcasm aside, how many good players from the north have been bypassed at the annual OHL draft yet not only have gone on to play in the O but be better than average players?

Here are just a few recent examples and from just one town, Sault Ste. Marie.

Twin brothers, overage forwards Darian Pilon and Drake Pilon are in their third OHL full season as key players with the Sudbury Wolves — despite never being drafted.

Last spring, goalie Mario Culina backstopped the Kitchener Rangers into Game 7 of the Western Conference finals a year after being part of a Memorial Cup championship team with the Windsor Spitfires — despite never being drafted into the OHL.

Then there is New Liskeard product Justin Brazeau, who is headed for a 50-goal, 100-point season as an overage forward with the OHL’s North Bay Battalion.

Current Ontario Hockey League scoring star Justin Brazeau, during his Great North Midget Hockey League days with the New Liskeard Cubs, about four years ago.

The 6-foot-6 Brazeau has developed into an OHL superstar despite being drafted by the Battalion from the New Liskeard Cubs of the Great North Midget Hockey League as a lowly 13th-round pick in 2014.

But what may be even more maddening is that while most OHL teams do have northern scouts, the general managers don’t seem to give the players from the north proper consideration come draft time. (Well, except maybe for the North Bay Battalion, Sudbury Wolves and Saginaw Spirit, who all have general managers that give the kids from the north a fair shake.)

The others? Ah, not so much.

I wonder how many general managers of OHL teams that are based in southern Ontario have ever taken a trip to the Soo, Sudbury, North Bay, New Liskeard, Timmins or Kapuskasing to scout a Great North midget game. I wonder how many of them even know how to get to, say, New Liskeard, Timmins or Kapuskasing.

Oh, the GMs may see a team or two from the Great North for a game or two at a tournament in southern Ontario. But how much of an evaluation is a game or two?

And if a player from any Great North club doesn’t happen to make the select Team Northern Ontario Hockey Association (NOHA) then the kid in question can probably forget about being drafted into the OHL.

Which brings me back to the beginning.

Northern Ontario has its share of good hockey players.

Our players put on their skates the same way those from the GTA do.

In fact, our players even have the added resolve and dedication of having to travel seven or eight hours for a league road contest as opposed to taking the Gardiner Expressway or the Don Valley Parkway from one end of Toronto to the other for a game.

So, OHL scouts and managers, why not think outside the GTA box and take a trip up north?

You will find that yes, we do play indoors, we do have restaurants and we do have hotels with beds and clean sheets. We even have running water!

We are the north. Come check out our players. You may even like it up here enough to want to come back again.

What you think about “Come up and see the north”

  1. Certainly agree with Randy.
    There was a time in the NHL when teams were loaded with Northern Ontario born players. (check out the Leafs 67 Stanley Cup Team as an example). Nothing has changed in the North. We continue to develop great kids but our population base has shrunk to the point where scouts are lazy and they wait to see a player once or twice a year when NO teams travel to the sacred south to play in tournaments.
    Watched with interest this past weekend when all 4 of Northern Ontario’s minor -midget teams got together to play in Sudbury for the GNML Minor Midget
    Championship. Witnessed some great hockey. Not sure that the event was well scouted but you can bet your last dollar that a few kids who played this past weekend will play in the O in the next couple of years despite the GM and scouts reluctance to travel North.

  2. I think its all about costs supply and demand nowadays . They have lots of good hockey players down south . Costs for teams to use the players down there. Cheaper and more exposure for the younger players coming up down south . I think to a player from here in the north has to have a lot of connections with people down there .

  3. Makes you wonder how many Claude Giroux’s go unnoticed by the northern OHL teams?
    That’s my only beef with the Soo Greyhounds.
    As a draft-and-develop team, they don’t seem to mine the talent in their back yard, or region for that matter.

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