The OHL Cup is one of the most exciting events in amateur hockey in Ontario. No, we aren’t talking about junior hockey with the best NHL Draft eligible players, we’re talking about the next group of young studs ready to make their impact at the Ontario Hockey League level.
Every year, hundreds of scouts around the OHL, QMJHL, NCAA and NHL make their way to the Scotiabank Pond in Toronto, home to non-stop action for many days. The top 20 teams compete in a tournament to see who really has the best minor midget (15-16 years old) players in the province.
Many of the best NHLers have played in this tournament, with Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Connor McDavid highlighting the crop. This year, the Toronto Marlboros and the York-Simcoe Express met in the finals to decide the championships, with York-Simcoe taking home a thrilling overtime victory at the old Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.
Let’s take a look at five players that really made an impact at the year-end tournament that saw tremendous action every single day.
Cameron Hillis, F (York-Simcoe Express): Being a captain on a championship winning team is definetly a tough task, but when you’re Cameron Hillis, you have what it takes to be a strong leader. Hillis, one of the leader players on the top Ontario based minor midget team, helped his team win the Silver Stick Championship tournament, the OMHA Gold Championship and an OHL Cup title to round things up.
Hillis wasn’t a top scorer at the season ending tournament, but the speedy youngster did finish with 72 points in 33 games with YSE this year, beating second place Ty Dellandrea’s 55 point total by a long shot. Hillis finished with eight points in seven games at the OHL Cup, tying line mate Ian Vucko for sixth overall. Three of Hillis’ points came in quarter-final and semi-final contests, including two against the Don Mills Flyers in the game that sent York-Simcoe to the finals. Adam Nightingale, who watched Hillis all season long while working for the team, said that he is a “playmaker first, shooter second. He has good speed, very good awareness of everything around him and strong positioning”. The big knock on Hillis, however, is that his small stature means he does get bullied around the boards at times, but that doesn’t stop him from putting up great offensive numbers. Watch for Hillis to be a first round pick, most likely in the second half of the round.
Andrei Berezinskiy, G (York-Simcoe Express): At 5’8 and 138 lbs, Berezinskiy definetly doesn’t have the size to be an OHL goalie. However, after leading the OMHA in wins and easily proving himself to be a championship caliber goaltender, he does have the skill to be there. Berezinksiy, a native of Russia, pretty much single-handedly saved his team in the quarter-final game against the Toronto Titan tournament champions, the Mississauga Rebels.
Playing against some of the best teams in all of Canada, Berezinksiy managed to record a 5-0 record to go with a 2.09 goals-against average, good enough to earn him the top goalie award at the tournament. The OJHL’s Pickering Panthers clearly thought Berezinskiy had what it took to play high level hockey, giving him a chance to come in and replace Mathew Woroniuk in a game against the Newmarket Hurricanes earlier in the year. Berezinskiy is a battler with a great glove hand, and with speed to play at a high level, look for him to get drafted a little later on in the draft, and if he grows a bit, watch out.
Danil Antropov, F (Toronto Marlboros): Does Antropov’s name sound familiar? Maybe it’s because he’s related to former NHL forward Nikolai Antropov, who’s well known for being a strong offensive leader with the Toronto Maple Leafs for many years. Danil is a very strong player in his own right, and while he wasn’t the top scorer on his team (Akil Thomas finished first on both the Marlies and the tournament with 13 points), his 10 points were still impressive enough to finish second overall.
When the tournament got to an important point, Antropov came up huge. In both elimination games heading into the finals, the Marlies put up major offensive numbers, scoring 13 goals and allowing none. Antropov put up five points in that two game span, including two goals each to help lead his team to the OHL Cup finals against York-Simcoe. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Antropov has not been able to smooth out his skating just yet, but he’s a very big physical presence and loves playing around the boards. His shot is good, he seems to know exactly where to be at all times and he tends to play well when his needs him too, even if he wasn’t able to help the Marlies win the OHL Cup.
Hunter Holmes, F (Niagara North Stars): Finishing third in scoring is a tremendous accomplishment for anyone, but to that while only only playing four games while the rest played five or more is even more impressive. Holmes was dynamite for Niagara at the OHL Cup, scoring six goals and nine points in just four games, trailing just Thomas and Antropov when it was all said and done.
Holmes, a native of Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, will likely find his name called just near the end of the first round or early second round at the OHL Draft in April. In an article for Hockey Now back in November, Graeme Frisque described Holmes as having a “solid two way game (that) possesses creativity, anticipation ability and hockey sense.” His offensive prowess earned him 34 points in 35 games for Niagara, and while those aren’t mind blowing numbers by any means, he was still good enough to finish ninth in scoring in the SCTAMM. Holmes also a recorded a point in Junior B action with the GOJHL’s St. Catharines Falcons, and while the verdict is still unknown as to whether he’ll make the OHL next year, he’ll be a threat in the league in no time.
Dirk Stadig, D (Toronto Jr. Canadiens): Like fellow Toronto Jr. Canadiens defenseman Ryan Merkley, Stadig knows a thing or two about playing at the OHL Cup. While Merkley stole all the headlines a year before his draft season in 2015, Stadig also saw action in four games at last year’s tournament, but didn’t a record a point in limited action.
This year, the Jr. Canadiens star had a much better impact, putting up five points in six games for the team that eventually lost to the Toronto Marlboros in the semi-finals. An offensive defenseman, Stadig was a big reason as to why the Canadiens won the Toronto Marlboros tournament during the Christmas break, and his fluent skating abilities were sure on display. Stadig wont be a high draft pick in April, but his status definetly grew thanks to his performance at the OHL Cup this year.
Steven is a junior hockey reporter for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and also focuses on international hockey for his website, TheHockeyHouse.net. You can follow Steven on twitter,@StevenEllisNHL.