The 2013-2014 season will culminate this weekend in Thorold as five Minor Midget AAA teams compete for an OMHA AAA Championship. The year-end Championship hosted by the Southern Tier Admirals will also feature teams from Hamilton, Guelph, Peterborough and Whitby.
The round robin format will kick off at the Thorold Arena on Friday with the gold medal matchup scheduled for Sunday at 12:30 PM. As we break down each competing team the common theme throughout is that every squad is chalked full of OHL caliber talent.
There are usually two adages when it comes to winning championships:
- Depth wins championships; and
- Championship teams are built from the crease out (i.e. having strong goaltending and defenceman)
The Bulldogs are in the fortunate position to have both of these.
In net, they have two outstanding goaltenders in Joseph Murdaca and Jonah Capriotti. While splitting games over the course of the season both goalies had a GAA under 2.00. At 6.02 and technically sound, scouts salivate over Murdaca. He has all the tools to be an effective OHL goaltender; even as early as next season. Capriotti may not be as physically blessed as Murdaca, but he is every bit as capable when it comes to technique and ability. He is extremely quick down low and competes very hard.
Simply put, the Bulldogs backend is the best inthe Championship and would stack up against any group of defencemen from any year at this level in the OMHA. Speed, quickness, and transition is the name of the game for this group, with coincides with what is occurring with defenceman at the OHL and NHL levels. This group is led by Matthew Timms. Timms is a great example that long gone are the days of needing to be 6’0” to be an effective defenceman. At 5.09, he is poised to be an early pick in the OHL Draft and there is no surprise why. His hockey smarts, skating, transition game, and ability to make quick plays are at an elite level. Also, he thrives on the Powerplay.
You may have to do a double –take at times when you watch Jonathon Schaefer play. He is almost identical in size and ability to Timms. As good of a skater Timms is, Schaefer may be even better, and his compete level is ultra-impressive.
Speaking of skating ability, anyone would be hard pressed to find a 6.00 defenceman that can skate as well as Trent Bourque. In addition, he understands the game well and his skills are good. He might not be as flashy as Timms and Schaefer but he is still very effective.
Dustin Shackelton delivers the thunder with the lightning. Keep your head up when you are on the ice against him, he hits hard and loves doing it. Coupling this with a good skill level and skating ability, he is a top-pairing defenseman most Minor Midget AAA teams would love to have.
Griffin Rubos is the “steady-eddy” of this group. He might not go end to end and score a goal or lay a devastating body check as some of his teammates do, but he does not have to do this to be effective. He plays a simple mistake free game. He is solid in all areas of the game and logs minutes in all situations.
Up front the Bulldogs are somewhat similar to their backend, skill, speed, and depth. The stud of this group is Brandon Saigeon. Saigeon will have his name called very early on OHL Draft day. He is big, skates well, very skilled, understands the game well, and shoots the puck well.
Riding shot-gun with Saigeon is Nicholas Caamano. Caamano is example 1A of teaching minor hockey forwards on how to play the game effectively. Extremely intelligent, he creates offence consistently and battles hard to win pucks.
Jacob Buch plays a solid two-way game but given the opportunity can be deft offensively. He gets involved physically, finishing his checks, and has some of the best hands in the OMHA.
Other forwards such as Mitchell Rooney, Owen Burnell, and Brendan D’Agostino sometimes get lost in the shuffle with team but truth is that they are very good hockey players; players that would be on the front-lines of most teams.
Even though they squeaked into the Championship, capturing the 5th seed after an exciting one-game playoff against Brampton on Tuesday, this is a team that is not to be taken lightly.
Goaltender Liam Devine was lights-out at the SCTA Minor Midget AAA Qualifiers on the weekend. When he is on his game the big (6.04, 215 lbs.) goalie is hard to beat.
Sean Allen leads a solid defense-corps for the Gryphons. Allen is big (6.02), skates very well, has good skills, and advances the puck consistently. Liam Chatterson is not fun to play against at all; he competes hard and takes no prisoners. Rounding out the group, Michael Marra, Thomas Hopgood, and Joel MacPherson work well as a unit and all bring something to the table.
Up front the Gryphons are very strong. If you look up Power Forward in the dictionary chances are there might be a picture of Connor Bunnaman there. The big (6.01) is skilled, competes, goes to dirty areas and is a bull with the puck; get in his way and look out.
Complimenting him nicely is Giordano Fioro. Fioro is an extremely intelligent hockey player that sees the ice very well. Coupled with his very high skill level, it is not coincidence he creates as much offence as any player you will see at this Championship.
It is hard to believe that Austen Keating is only 14 years-of-age (he actually turns 15 on Friday – Happy birthday Austen). The Underage prodigy was third in team scoring and often counted on to lead this team offensively. Keating will no doubt be a top-pick in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection.
Flying under the radar, partly due to his small stature, is Noah Cameron. Cameron has very good skills, skates well, and understands the game well. Game in and game out he is effective, he is as consistent as consistent can be.
Like most teams from Peterborough, this team’s success comes from gold old fashioned hard work and working together as a team. That being said, there are some very good players on this team.
Goaltenders Drew Hutchinson and Nic Mutton were good in the Regular Season and lights out in the Playoffs. The team struggled with some key injuries in the Playoffs and it was these two young men that stepped up the most.
On the backend, the team is led by Riley Stillman. Missing most of the playoffs with appendicitis, the he made a gutsy return to the line-up that propelled the team past the South Central Coyotes into the OMHA Championship. In a tournament filled with smart hockey players, Stillman might be the smartest. Like a drummer of a band, he has the ability to control the tempo of the game when he has the puck; this is a very rare ability.
In Stillman’s absence, Cole Robbins was asked to step-up and he certainly did that. Robbins is a very smart player that is solid in all situations. He also has a mean-streak to his game.
Up front blue-colour does not get any better. Team Captain and points leader James Allen will beat you on the score sheet and in the corner as well. He may be only 5.10 but he plays like a giant, he is fun to watch but not fun to play against. German Max Kislinger is a bull in a china shop and on top of this has lots of skill as well. For a player as big and thick (6.02, 200 lbs.) as him, he skates very well and has good lateral movement.
Dayton Kent is a similar player to Allen. Slightly bigger than Allen at 6.00, he has a good skill level, competes, and mixes it up physically.
The OMHA Bantam AAA Champions last year will be looking for Back-to-Back titles on the weekend. Like a lot of good teams, the Admirals have good goaltending. Goaltenders Brandon McCorriston and Zach Moore combined for a phenomenal 15 Shutouts (McCorriston had 10 of them) and allowed just over 1.00 goals per game.
On the back-end, the Admirals are led by four very solid defencemen. Defensemen are normally put into one of three categories – 1) Offensive, 2) All-Around, and 3) Stay-at-Home. Conor Timmins is the prototypical all-around defenseman. He can lead the offence and generate chances but he does not give up much on the defensive size of the puck. Reid Yochim is the proto-typical offensive defenceman. Any lack of size he has (5.06) he makes up with his skill and smarts, he generates a lot of offensive from the backend and is very effective on the Powerplay. Jonathan Pace and Nathan Ellis complete this solid top-4. Both boast a good amount of skill, defensive ability, and physicality to their game.
The Admirals Offensive attack is let by Nicolas Prestia and Kyle Langdon. The big (6.00) and thick Power Forward Prestia got better and better as the year went on. He has a great pair of hands and shoots the puck very well. Langdon is very smart, sees the ice well, and makes his teammates around him better. Both players compliment themselves very well.
Captain Mitchell Mendonca is one of the best two-way centres in Minor Midget AAA Hockey. He is very good at winning battles and knows what to do with the puck after he obtains it.
The beast of the east come in on a high. After finishing the Regular Season with the best record in the ETA, in the two playoff series they won to get here, their only blemish was one loss and one tie. A combination of this as well as a strong team defense and an offence that has the ability to be explosive, makes Whitby one of the teams to beat in this Championship.
In net, the combination of Adam Wisco and Cooper Howieson has been rock solid all year. Even though this strong defensive team did not give up a lot of shots, these guys were there to make the key saves when needed.
The backend is anchored Jack Hanley. At 180 lbs. he has the strength to outmuscle and handle his opponents physically, he also skates very well and his skills are good which adds to a great transition games. He consistently logs a lot of quality minutes.
Similar to Reid Yochim on Southern Tier, Whitby defenseman Ryan Porter may not be the biggest guy in the world but he makes up for it with his skill, skating ability and smarts. Registering 25 points in the Regular season and another six in the seven playoff games he played in, he is very lethal on the Powerplay with his great vision and passing ability.
The rest of the d-corp are a very good mix of size, skill, speed and physicalness. More importantly they play within the structure put in place very effectively.
Up front there is a lot of speed and skill. This group is led by Matthew Hotchkiss. Hotchkiss has a rare combination of size (6.02, 200 lbs.) and skill. His hands are as good as anyone at this age group in any league and he has scored enough Highlight Reel goals to fill an episode of SportsCentre.
Complimenting Hotchkiss very well is Jonah Gadjovich. Gadjovich plays the game very tough, he is physical, competes hard, and plays a 200-foot game. His skill level is very good but his impact on this team is felt more in the corners, defensively, and as a leader than anything.
After Hotchkiss there are a plethora of forwards that may not have a lot of size but have a lot of speed and skill. The combination of Joshua Argier, Nick Lalonde, Mitchell Martan (average size is approximatley 5.08, 165 lbs.) ate up opposing teams all year long. This trio combined for 114 points during the regular season (although they did not play together all of the time) and created a plethora of offence.
Chase Aubin and Liam Morgan, are the final pieces of a seven forwards that stacks up against anyone in the Championship. Aubin is very skilled and capitilizes on his opportunities. Morgan is extremely smart and is always in the right areas of the ice.
The OMHA Champions and finalists will also qualify for next weeks OHL Cup and compete alongside top teams from the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL), Minor Hockey Alliance of Ontario (ALLIANCE), Ottawa District Minor Hockey Association (ODMHA), Hockey Northwestern Ontario (HNO), and the Northern Ontario Hockey Association (NOHA) and representatives from the U.S.A.