Call it an accomplished achievement under the Northern Ontario Hockey Association umbrella. No less than 14 players from the NOHA’s Great North Midget League were among those chosen at the 2019 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft.
Leading the pack, Sudbury Minor Wolves had nine players taken, the Soo Minor Thunderbirds chipped in with three, while the North Bay Major Trappers and North Bay Minor Trappers accounted for one apiece.
In all, 303 players from 94 different teams were selected at the 15-round OHL priority selections process.
The Major Trappers lone selection was a sizeable, significant one as the big goalie Benjamin Gaudreau went in the first round, seventh overall, to the Sarnia Sting.
Minor Trappers goalie Owen Wray later went in the 15th round to the North Bay Battalion.
Gaudreau was one of two first-round selections from the Great North. The other was fluid, rangy, hard-shooting defenseman Jack Matier of the Minor Thunderbirds who went 21st overall to the Ottawa 67s.
Matier’s blue-line buddy from the Minor Thunderbirds, Tyler Dunbar, was also an early attraction as the Flint Firebirds took the dandy defender in the third round, 44th overall.
Minor Thunderbirds forward Stephen Pszeniczny lasted until the 15th round when the Niagara IceDogs made the good-sized skater the third Soo player to be selected, taking him 299th overall.
Back to Matier, if he was disappointed at being bypassed by his hometown Soo Greyhounds for fellow defenseman Jacob Holmes from the York-Simcoe Express in the no. 18 spot of the first round, he did not show it when I talked to him.
Instead, the well-grounded youngster — who is a son of Greyhounds 1993 Memorial Cup championship defender Mark Matier — was all about talking up being taken by Ottawa three picks later, calling it an “honour to be drafted by a great organization like the 67s.”
Which is the way it should be. Why talk about being over-looked by the Greyhounds when there is the excitement and prestige of being a first round pick of the 67s?
As for the other Minor Thunderbirds defenseman, Dunbar is a player that Flint general manager Barclay Branch and his scouts — including Sault Ste. Marie-based Mike Oliverio — did a lot of scouting and follow-up homework on.
Knowing that he had three picks in the third round, Branch specifically targeted Dunbar in the no. 44 slot well ahead of the draft. And Branch did not waver in taking the smart, skilled, athletic defender exactly in that spot for the Firebirds, who continue to assemble good, young talent as they focus on a breakthrough season for the Flint franchise in 2019-2020.
Of note, the American-born Dunbar — whose mother hails from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and whose father is originally from Owen Sound, Ontario — was contacted by at least one Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association school prior to the OHL draft.
Over to Pszeniczny, the third player from Soo to be taken at Saturday’s draft, the lanky forward with the nice scoring touch also has interest from NCAA schools.
Meanwhile, as North Bay and the Soo both had players taken in the first round of the 2019 talent grab, the Minor Wolves from Sudbury scored the most in the volume department.
Leading the way for the Minor Wolves was all-around, standout forward Chase Stillman.
Not only did Stillman go in the second round, 25th overall, to the Sudbury Wolves but he is poised to join an OHL team where his dad, Cory Stillman, is the head coach and his grandfather, Bud Stefanski, is an assistant coach.
“It’s super exciting,” the younger Stillman told Postmedia. “There’s a lot to look forward to right now.”
Stillman’s selection in the no. 25 slot was the first of nine for the Minor Wolves of the Great North.
Another Sudbury forward, Max McCue, also went in the second round with the London Knights gaining his rights with the 34th overall pick.
Flint, which took the aforementioned Dunbar of the Soo in the third round, 44th overall, again looked to the Great North in the same round, getting small-but-speedy scorer Zacharie Giroux in the no. 57 spot.
Giroux is the younger brother of Damien Giroux, who is in his third OHL season with the Saginaw Spirit and is its team captain.
Six more Minor Wolves would follow Stillman, McCue and Giroux.
Mitchell Martin went in the fourth round, 81st overall, to the Kitchener Rangers, Josh Kavanagh was snagged in the fifth round, 93rd overall, by the Peterborough Petes, Cameron Walker went in the ninth round, 164th overall to the Kingston Frontenacs, Devon Savignac lasted until the ninth round, 171st overall, before being picked by North Bay, Chris Innes went in the 12th round, 229th overall, to Sarnia, and Bradley Brunet was chosen in the 13th round, 259th overall, by Niagara.
Martin, Walker, Savignac and Brunet are all forwards, Kavanagh is a defenseman and Innes can play up front or on the blue line.
Back to Stillman, the youngster talked about being drafted by the OHL Wolves and eventually playing for both his dad and his maternal grandfather.
“I hope (Wolves fans) are going to be okay with it, because I think I deserve to be here,” he said. “I think it’s going to be fun and I hope we can work together and well as a father-son relationship on the bench. And I think the (Wolves players) will be okay with it as long as I work hard and earn my respect. I think it will work out.”
In all, 14 players from the NOHA and the Great North being picked at the 2019 OHL draft represents a good number for the region.
To be sure, when one thinks about the number of teams and leagues from Ontario and parts of the United States that OHL general managers and teams have to choose from, the Great North showed rather well.
It is disappointing, though, that OHL managers and scouts continue to focus on only three Great North programs — Sudbury, the Soo and North Bay — while seemingly paying little heed to other teams like, for example, the Timmins Majors.
Timmins had at least two 2003 birth year skaters — namely defenseman Mason Berthiaume and forward Landon Deforge — who could have easily been late-round picks at this 2019 OHL draft.
Perhaps an idea for the Great North and its soon-to-be, second-year commissioner Albert Corradini, is to try to come up with a plan that would somehow showcase all of its minor-midget aged players for OHL managers and scouts — not to mention OHL Central Scouting — at a common event or tournament.
Meantime, 14 players — including two in the first round and two more in the second round — taken at the most-recent OHL draft is certainly something for the NOHA and the Great North to take pride in.
The little league from the Great North is getting noticed. It would just be nice if it was noticed outside the “big three” towns of Sudbury, the Soo and North Bay.