With the slap of their sticks, and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” ringing out over the speakers, a record 68 players took to the ice at Westwood Arena yesterday morning for the start of 13th annual National Training Centres (NTC) Junior Showcase.
On their March Break, these handpicked Midgets and Minor Midgets aren’t slacking on vakay. They’re turning it up a notch, determined to catch the attention of 25 coaches, scouts/and or GM’s from around the Ontario Hockey League, Junior A and Junior B. Youth mentor Dan Blackburn co-founded the Showcase (with ex-NHLer Peter Zezel) in 1998 as a way to encourage undrafted players to keep their dream alive.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids this age people have forgotten about, make it,” says Louie Gialedakis, who has coached at the Showcase for several years.
“They need somewhere that gives them the opportunity, so they don’t give up. We need more of these programs across the country,”
Back at this five-day event for a second year was Dan Wood, head scout for Ancaster Avalanche Junior B’s, and Glanbrook Rangers Junior C’s.
“It allows you to get a perspective on the hidden gems, the boys who have been overlooked (for whatever reason),” he says. “A lot of them are AA kids, and you get a look at them in midseason form…A lot of the kids in AA are hungry.”
Wood is keeping an eye out for players doing the “small things”. Like how Team Camo centre (Mississauga Jets’ AA Midget star Tyler Illidge) kept his stick on the ice in front of the opposition’s net, creating a target for his teammate’s pass and a good scoring chance.
Having sniped 30-plus goals this season, the speedy, 5-foot, 11-inch 170-pounder came to the Showcase, “to get exposure, and see if I could make it higher up” – to the Ontario Hockey League, and maybe beyond.
“It’s very fast. It’s better than AA hockey, and everybody’s much stronger,” he said with a smile.
By Mike Beggs