Iconic summer event is one of the first to return after year-long, nationwide pause
It’s supposed to be Canada’s game. For the better part of a fiscal year, though, it was one thing Canadians were restricted from partaking in. Whether it was at ice arenas, local rinks, frozen ponds or ODR’s in the backyard. It didn’t matter if they were high-ranking junior leagues, youth leagues or city rec leagues. The COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on the game of hockey nationwide, in an unprecedented way.
After nearly 16 months without hockey — among many, many other things — Canada has slowly begun to return to normalcy, as rinks begin to open fully and players get back on the ice.
It was a year where two of the country’s premier youth events were canceled, with the PeeWee Quebec in February and The Brick earlier this month in Edmonton. So when the puck dropped at the Montreal Meltdown, the 29-year-old event was a symbolic beam of hope for hundreds of hockey families.
“Amazing,” said tournament founder Dave Harroch. “People just want to play hockey. We don’t care, we just want our kids to play hockey. It feels like we’re normal again.”
Started in 1993 with just 11 teams, the Meltdown has swelled to more than 300 boys and girls teams across 11 age groups in a typical year. While Canadians have gotten the go-ahead to return to hockey, travel restrictions and closed borders still limit the 2021 event in some capacity. No American teams were admitted, and a field that usually consists of participants from countries around the world were limited to the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
That’s okay to Harroch and the current field of teams; they’re just happy to be back on the ice.
“Up ‘til last week, we were limited to 25 fans per game,” he said. “As of this past Monday, we’re up to 50. We’re lucky enough to have LiveBarn in the venues to provide streaming for parents and people who couldn’t get in as well.”
The country, like the rest of the world, is not completely in the clear. Precautions are expected to continue for the foreseeable future, and any remaining restrictions will continue to be levied slowly. Harroch and his team have followed any and all protocols throughout the process in an effort to deliver high-quality and safe events to participants.
July 2nd marked the official start of the Montreal Meltdown, with five Girls’ Divisions competing on opening weekend. Over the next four weekends, more than 400 games will take place, before closing out festivities on August 2nd at the Pierrefonds Sportsplex.
The month-long tournament will see hundreds of teams and families finally able to satisfy their hunger for hockey. What’s the expression? ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder.’ After nearly a year-and-a-half hiatus, Canadians can be summed up in three words.
“We’re just happy,” said Harroch.
A Historic Weekend From The 2021 OHL Draft
The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) conducted its annual priority selection over the weekend, with all 20 of its member organizations participating. Each year, the draft takes place as teams choose players from their Under-16 seasons, and the 2021 festivities focused on prospects from the 2005-birth year.
It didn’t take long for history to be made, either, as Sudbury selected Quentin Musty with the first overall pick. He became the first American-born player chosen first overall since Alex Galchenyuk in 2010. Musty was a key component in the North Jersey Avalanche 16U team, playing up a year with the 2004s and leading the team in scoring at USA Hockey Nationals. He scored nine goals and 16 points in six games as the Avs won the championship.
The Oakville Rangers U16 team drew considerable attention on the first day of the draft as well, producing five of the first 11 picks selected. Second overall Calum Ritchie, fifth overall Matthew Soto, sixth overall Nick Lardis, ninth overall Luke Misa and 11th overall Owen Outwater carved out some history of their own for the youth organization they represented. It marked the fifth time that one organization managed to account for four of the top 10 picks selected in the draft, most recently in 2019 when Shane Wright and the Don Mills Flyers dominated draft day.
In all, 16 players from that Oakville team would go on to be selected during the 15-round event, producing more OHL prospects than any other youth organization. The Toronto Marlboros and Toronto Jr. Canadiens followed closely with 14 each, then the Mississauga Rebels (11) and Vaughan Kings (10).
History didn’t stop there, either.
With the 267th pick, Sarnia selected Taya Currie from the Elgin Middlesex Chiefs, as she became the first female ever to be chosen in the OHL Draft. Sarnia general manager Dylan Seca told The (Sarnia) Observer that Currie was drafted solely based on her skill.
“There’s no secret this is obviously a barrier-breaking scenario, but this is not a one-off,” he said. “This is a girl that’s been seven years playing triple-A with the boys. A starting goaltender on arguably the best team in the Alliance (Hockey League). This is a legit goaltender.”
The absence of a 2020-21 youth hockey season in Canada surely made the draft proceedings a challenging one over the weekend. The impact of a lost season has the potential of a ripple effect in the years that follow. How teams identified prospects as well as how those prospects developed without games and limited ice availability will play out as the OHL starts a new season next fall.
Most Represented Youth Teams at Under-18 World Junior Championships
The 2021 IIHF U18 World Junior Championships are set to begin Monday in Frisco and Plano, Texas, with a field of teams from 10 different countries. Teams Czech and Germany will begin the festivities with puck drop at 4 p.m. CT, and will be the first of 28 games over the span of 11 days.
Team USA won the U20 World Juniors in Edmonton four months ago, and the U18 squad will be a strong favorite to win as well. Team Canada may have one of its strongest teams in recent memory because of the pandemic and Team Sweden brings a strong group across the Atlantic as well.
With the top countries from around the world all in one location, we take a deep dive into the players’ origins and the youth organizations they represent.
A pretty diverse group with 25 skaters stemming from 19 different youth programs across five different provinces. Team Canada is unique in another way as well, as three players also hail from different countries with Mason McTavish (Switzerland), Cole Sillinger (USA) and Danny Zhilkin (Russia) all claiming dual citizenship. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see that two teams from the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) account for the largest portion of the locker room, with the Don Mills Flyers and Toronto Marlboros producing three members each.
Team Czech Republic
Stanislav Svozil was a member of the Czech’s U20 team earlier this year, where he picked up an assist in the tournament and the team finished with a 2-2-0 record. The U18 squad is slightly different than previous tournament teams. Of the 25 rostered players, only four are not currently playing in the Czech Republic, making this year’s group a homegrown bunch with little influence from the CHL or other international junior leagues. Those Czech roots run deep through the youth ranks, with three players from HC Plzen and three more from HC Prerov, including the 6-foot-1 Svozil who last played for the club’s U16 team.
The Finns have had great success in this tournament, winning a medal in four of the last five events including two gold and two silver. Defenseman Kalle Ervasti has ties to the States, having spent his 16U season with South Florida Hockey Academy (SFHA), scoring 61 points in 59 games for the club. In addition to him, the Blues, Jokerit and Pelicans are among some of the most represented programs on the team, but Karpat leads the way with four former players, including standout forward Samu Tuomaala.
A country on the rise in the sport of hockey, from NHL MVP Leon Draisaitl, to last year’s third overall pick in Tim Stützle. Germany is back in the top level of the World Juniors tournament for the first time in six years, and the players are part of an international development plan to build up the country’s competitiveness in the event. Part of that comes from an investment at the youth level, where a program like Starbulls Rosenheim and its 2017-18 under-16 team that produced three members of this year’s national team.
It’s one of the smallest countries by land area in the tournament and the national team is limited in terms of resources it can tap into for players. Just eight youth hockey programs account for Team Latvia’s entire roster makeup, and SK Riga alone produced five forwards, two D and a goalie who last played youth hockey for the club’s U16 and U15 teams. While their origins are similar, the players’ current situations vary greatly with skaters actively playing in Finland’s U20 SM-Sarja, Switzerland’s U20-Elit, Norway U21 and Russia’s MHL.
The Russians will bring plenty of offensive firepower to the tournament with Ivan Miroshnichenko and Matvei Michkov headlining the list of forwards. Fyodor Svechkov, Nikita Chibrikov and Ilya Ivantsov are also dangerous, in addition to several others. Eleven members of the team originated from the Central Federal District of Russia; the region surrounding the city of Moscow. One of the most storied and historic youth programs in the country, Dynamo Moscow, accounts for six of the players.
Without a tournament in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Swedes should still be considered as defending champs after defeating Russia in the 2019 event. This year, it may not have the big names on the roster that it normally boasts, but the country should certainly be considered in contention this week anyway, given its history in international play. Frolunda is one of the most recognizable youth programs in Sweden, most likely because it produces international and professional players at an impressive clip. Five Indians alumni, including some of Sweden’s top prospects, will suit up for the Swedes. Keep an eye out for forwards Liam Dower-Nilsson, Noah Hasa, Fabian Lysell and Ludwig Persson as well as defenseman Simon Edvinsson.
Just one player (Attilio Biasca) is currently playing junior hockey outside of Switzerland. The rest of the current roster resides in the surprisingly competitive U20-Elit Swiss League. Biasca suited up for the U20 team in January and has spent the 2020-21 season in the QMJHL. The Swiss will rely heavily on his experience because the country hasn’t fared very well in the U18 tournament. In 21 tournament appearances, Team Swiss has won a medal just once, and it was 20 years ago. Switzerland’s roster is comprised of 25 players from 17 youth organizations, with Kevin Pasche, Nathan Cantin, Benjamin Bourgo and Louis Robin hailing from Lausanne’s U15 team.
Hockey in the States starts with the three M’s: Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota. The U18 team, however, starts with just one M… Michigan. Ten players on the roster either reside in, or played their most recent youth hockey in the Mitten State. Dylan Duke, Ty Gallagher, Sasha Pastujov and Red Savage played for Compuware’s 16U team in 2018-19 before all four of them went on to play for the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) in Plymouth, Michigan. Five others also played for Michigan-based youth programs including HoneyBaked (2), Fox Motors, Little Caesars and Oakland Jr. Grizzlies.
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Mark Your Calendars For The Biggest Events of the “Offseason”
Let’s be honest, hockey season never ends. Critics will point to burnout and the negative impact of specialization in sports. Advocates will say that kids are constantly looking to get better and improve their game. Pros, cons, positives, negatives, good, bad and ugly. Wherever you’re at on the spectrum regarding spring and summer hockey, it really boils down to a personal preference and what’s best for each individual.
For the hockey hungry, puck crazy athletes and families, WHH has compiled a calendar of some of the best spring and summer hockey tournaments in the world. From breath-taking destinations to elite-level exposure, this list of 10 events has something for everyone in youth hockey.
(Philadelphia, USA) A new event in 2021, it has drawn the interest of some very strong North American spring selects teams. Operated by the team at Play Hockey, and is one-of-30 tournaments run by the organization. This year’s event is slated to feature teams at the 2004, 2005 and 2006-birth years in June and July with a five-game guarantee. There are currently 63 North American teams registered across all three age groups.
(Exeter, New Hampshire) The Atlantic International Trophy (AIT) is an up-and-coming event that prides itself on attracting a diverse pool of teams greater than your average summer showcase. Slated for the second weekend in July, the AIT will feature an ‘04-05 combined division as well as ‘06 and ‘07 divisions, with teams from the U.S., Canada and Europe on the invite list. This New England city won’t disappoint either, with plenty of tourist attractions in the area.
(Finland) The Finland Lions Cup was a European summer event before the idea of summer events in Europe ever existed. Run by Pelimatkat, the event operates like a well-oiled machine with good competition that attracts a nice mix of Scandinavian and Russian teams each year. North American teams would be considered a novelty, and any organization willing to travel would be treated like royalty, welcomed with open arms. The event is held in the middle of the summer camp season, providing a tournament-camp combo option for those interested as well.
(Foxboro, Massachusetts) An iconic East Coast event nestled in the New England hockey hotbed of Massachusetts. If bigger is better, then there are few events that would top the Chowder Cup in size. Multiple age groups competing over multiple weekends spread out over a large geographical region. The talent level varies from super selects AAA all-star teams to AA-level teams that all compete in one open division.
(Europe, various locations) DraftDay and World Hockey Group – Europe teamed up to present the Eurofest Summer Festival. The event caters to a broad audience of AAA-level talent and hosts six different birth years on three different weekends in three different European destinations. Prague, Reykjavik and Stockholm are the host cities for 202. Attendees are treated to opening ceremonies and exclusive player parties with a festive atmosphere. It feels more like a play-cation combining beautiful locations with great competition for an unforgettable experience.
(Oakville, Ontario) The International Prospects Showcase is a relatively new offering but the team at DraftDay has a deep history of success in the youth hockey space. This event is geared towards the best of the best in North America, highlighted by the top-tier local players from Ontario. It has grown wildly in popularity since its inception and pending the lift of COVID restrictions in Canada, should quickly return as a must-attend event.
(Various locations) A series of three events in Montreal, Nashville and Chicago, the Triple Crown by SuperSeries targets the upper echelon of AAA players in North America. The competition level is consistent and strong, and the events run extremely smoothly. The focus here is on the best possible players and it shows, as SuperSeries do a nice job of selecting desirable locations and spots in the events are highly sought after.
(Montreal, Quebec) Loved as much for the location as the hockey event itself. Montreal is a manageable drive from the Eastern U.S. border states, which provides a truly international and timeless feel to the event. It has a level of consistency that reeks of professionalism and win or lose, teams leave feeling like they had a great weekend. The pool of teams is primarily regional to Eastern Canada and New England, with plenty of competition levels and age groups for everyone.
(Edmonton, Alberta) One of the most prestigious events in all of youth hockey. Not only is it hosted in the unique venue of the West Edmonton Mall, it has featured the likes of more than 200 current and former NHL players when they competed at the 10U age level. From the TV broadcast, to the fans hanging over the glass, the environment of the week-long tournament is unparalleled in youth sports and arguably the most coveted roster invite in hockey.
(Various locations) The Granddaddy of all spring and summer events. It has it all, uber-elite talent levels, multiple age groups, amazing venues, breath-taking locations and truly the most international event of its kind. Participants from Russia, Europe, Scandinavia and North America competing in cities like Prague, Bolzano, Stockholm and Mont Blanc. There’s just as much for the parents to enjoy in terms of sightseeing as for the players competing on the ice. The North American event — hosted in Nashville, Tennessee — is the pinnacle of this tournament series, with top 15U selects teams from around the world all in one location for junior and professional scouts to see first-hand. Hundreds of current NHL players and more than 1,000 NCAA athletes have competed in this tournament series from both the boys and girls events. The combination of competition, culture, travel and experience is unparalleled by any one event on the hockey calendar.
Numbers to Know Leading Up To The National Title Game
College hockey will crown its champion for the 2020-21 season this weekend, as Massachusetts, Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State square off in the 2021 Frozen Four. The field started with 16 teams, and after some having to forfeit due to positive COVID-19 tests, others surviving five-overtime thrillers and nail-biting regional action, only four teams remain. Three programs from the state of Minnesota and one from New England have survived one of the more challenging seasons in history and will meet in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Last year was the first time in 72 seasons that the NCAA did not award a national champion in hockey after the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19. So as the event returns to the spotlight, we take a closer look at where it all originated for the players competing for a title.
Percent of the 109 players rostered across the four teams are from Minnesota. Not all that surprising, given that three of the four teams remaining are from the State of Hockey. What may be a surprise is that this is the first year in history that multiple schools from the land of 10,000 lakes qualified for the Frozen Four in the same tournament.
Different Minnesota high schools produced at least one of the previously mentioned players. Hermantown High School (6), Holy Family Catholic (3) and Elk River High School (3) are at the forefront, and the Minnesota High School Hockey League (MHSHL) continues to be a leader in development of youth hockey players in the United States.
American youth organizations have at least one representative in Pittsburgh. The Arizona Jr. Coyotes, Chicago Mission, Chicago Young Americans, Colorado Thunderbirds, HoneyBaked, LA Jr. Kings and Selects Academy are among those with multiple alumni vying for the national title.
Canadians are represented on all four teams, including nine from Ontario, five from Alberta, two from Saskatchewan as well as one from Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Four of them played their youth hockey in Ontario’s legendary Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) which has produced hundreds of current and former NHL players.
Countries — aside from the obvious U.S. and Canada — including three from Finland, two from Czech Republic and one from each of Germany, Slovakia and Japan. Six of those nationalities are represented on St. Cloud State’s roster, with the Huskies’ top two scorers hailing from the Scandinavian country.
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Historic event canceled after one-year postponement for 2010s
On Friday, the Brick Invitational Hockey Tournament announced the official cancellation of the tournament for 2010-born players. This comes after a 12-month postponement of the event, which was initially scheduled for July, 2020.
The Brick is an annual event that hosts some of the best 10U players in North America at its 14-team tournament in the West Edmonton Mall. Since 1990, the event has seen the likes of Jack Hughes, Mathew Barzal, Auston Matthews and more than 200 other current and former NHL players.
Last spring, the 2010s were slated to take the spotlight, but amidst shutdowns and travel restrictions due to COVID-19, tournament organizers agreed to postpone the 2010s to the following summer, and host two age groups in 2021. Now just a few months away from the expected start date, the country of Canada remains shut down and international travel restrictions are still heavily in place.
“It had been our hope, and strong desire, to provide all those players the experience of a lifetime at The Bright Invitational and combine that with the 2011’s in back-to-back tournaments,” said chairman Craig Styles. “Unfortunately, due to the circumstances surrounding the uncertainty of hold the tournament, including new strains and variants of the virus, tightening government restrictions on travel and gatherings, the continued closure of the U.S.-Canada border and vaccination scheduling, we are simply unable to hold multiple tournaments this year.”
The announcement also included an update on the status of the 2011-birth year, pushing its expected start date of early July back to August 2 – 8 this summer.
“[This] is subject to our ability to safely hold the tournament with no restrictions, including safe travel without quarantines and the ability to hold indoor gatherings within the province of Alberta, and rink availability,” said Styles.
A final decision on the status of the 2021 tournament for ‘11s is expected to be made by April 30th.
What do you think? Text WHH at 603-541-7772 and share your thoughts on The Brick as well as other upcoming spring and summer events this year.
Historic Prep Programs join to create six-team league for next season
Some of the oldest and most storied prep programs in North America have teamed up for the 2021-22 season to form the Prep Hockey Conference (PHC). Culver Academy, Mount Saint Charles Academy, Northwood School, Shattuck-St. Mary’s, South Kent School and St. Andrew’s College have combined to form a six-team league.
St. Andrew’s is one of the oldest in Canada, going back more than 100 years. Mount Saint Charles into the 1930s. Culver and Northwood’s programs date back to the 1970s. Shattuck in the 1990s and South Kent from the 1980s. There’s no shortage of history among these schools and the resumes they’ve compiled in terms of state and national championships, as well as NHL alumni is unmatched.
This newly-formed six-team conference spans more than 1,300 miles from New England to Ontario and the Midwest. The PHC plans to establish itself as the premier prep hockey league in North America by setting the highest standards for competitiveness and maintaining a level of institutional investment that demonstrates a significant commitment to its hockey programs and facilities. The goal is to establish relationships within and beyond the hockey world that create a high degree of visibility and positive media exposure for the PHC, its programs and its players.
Will the formation of the PHC change the youth hockey landscape? Text us at 603-541-7772 to share your thoughts and receive the latest news from the world of youth hockey.