It’s the dream of almost every kid growing up to step foot on the same ice as their heroes on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now two OMHA teams will have that opportunity to live out just that.
After entering the Under Armour Storm the Centre contest and completing challenges over the last few weeks, the York-Simcoe Express Minor Bantam AAA and Oshawa Minor Generals Minor Bantam AE teams each won their respective Gauntlet events to secure their opportunities.
They will now compete for the Armour Cup which will be the final event on the schedule of an action-packed day at the Air Canada Centre. After teams arrive in the morning, they will spend time getting new Under Armour gear and touring the Leafs dressing room before heading out for practice and training drills with Leafs alumni. Players will also have the opportunity to go through different sessions just like the pros – everything from media training to nutrition – with the Leafs professional staff.
There’s no question these two teams earned their spots. You can view their challenge submissions here.
The challenges each team completed, everything from showing off the home rink to imitating the coach to performing a pre-game routine, brought the players closer together. It turned them from a group of players to a true family.
“I think what I’ve seen through the process is a certain element of trying to achieve a common goal that’s greater than anything individual and something that they needed each other to do… in terms of the competition and going it through it with each other was good for strengthening their team bond,” said Express head coach Rob Shilton.
“The players learned to work as a team off the ice and found out more about their teammates,” added Generals team manager Brad Eveniss. “When they were given the task of recording a few challenges themselves they came together and worked as a team and they had fun!”
There was more to the challenges than just grabbing a camera and filming. The players took on the responsibility of planning and executing each task. The Generals players learned about perseverance, humility, film-making skills, creativity and the ability to see things through to completion.
“Some of the stuff required creative thinking,” agreed Shilton about his own team. “The cheer that they did in the dressing room, they didn’t just come up with it off the top of the head, there was some organizing and there was some debate and sharing ideas. The idea of coming together as one to produce one thing was really beneficial.”
There were a list of challenges provided by Under Armour to complete to earn points. Once a team sent in video proof of the challenge, they were graded and awarded a certain amount of points based on the quality of the submission. Teams were split into two groups – the Under Armour division and the Maple Leafs divisions – and the top five from each division were invited to the Gauntlet skills camp.
At the Gauntlet, representatives from each team participated in a variety of skills challenges such as target practice, fastest skater, puck control, goalie agility and the breakaway. The Express and Generals were announced as winners after all the scores were tallied.
“I think that experience, an all-star skills day challenge, is something that they really like to have,” said Shilton. “It’s something cool, it’s unique, they never do it, so having that experience was very worthwhile. I think the way that it was structured in terms of having team support, guys cheering each other and all that kind of stuff was good.”
The Express and Generals have now punched their ticket to the Air Canada Centre for the finale on Sunday. This once in a lifetime opportunity will be so full of unique experiences that it’s tough to pinpoint which one to look forward to the most.
“I don’t think it’s really going to set in until they actually go through the day,” said Shilton. “I think that’s the part they’ll get excited about. I do feel from my perspective, they were obviously super excited but I don’t think it’s sunk in yet what the day really is.”
“The answers vary from all the kids but they are all looking forward to the fun filled day,” said the Generals bench staff. “A Leaf for a day all decked out in Under Armour is every player’s dream. It is great the way that the Leafs and Under Armour give back to the community this way. It allows us to inject some unexpected fun into the year other than the games we play.”
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