It all started with an idea from Owen Sound defenseman Andrew Perrott. It ended with the completion of a Top Prospect’s Game on Sunday. And in-between, a huge message was sent from the Erie Junior Showcase to the powers that be with both the OHL and the province of Ontario.
That message? “We did it.”
Thanks to the efforts of several individuals, the PBHH Invitational held at ErieBank Sports Park from June 1-13 was a big success. For the first time in over a year in many cases, players got to play hockey. That might sound simple to a lot of people. But to those that attended, it was the first step to returning to a normal life.
There certainly were some challenges early on that had to be tackled. Where were the players going to stay? What about any medical or legal matters? How about food for two weeks? That was just some of the things that had to be settled before the event could take off.
“We had all the uncertainty of people coming in here from a financial standpoint. Those were our biggest concerns coming into this,” Brendan Hoffmann said. “Once we got those figured out, it’s looking at day-by-day things because those are much more unpredictable than seeing a bunch of invoices and sums on a sheet.”
Thanks to the efforts of players such as Perrott, Hoffmann, Ryan Beck and Ryan Humphrey along with the help of volunteers who in some cases worked over 170 hours to keep things running smoothly, they were able to figure the logistics out.
“(The) people who volunteered, Jayme Young, (Kelly) Perrott, lots of people who helped out, they did so much to help out with all the day-by-day, keeping everyone on track and keeping everyone where they’re supposed to be going. Also the staff, the media upstairs, the equipment managers, the doctors, all those people did just to keep everybody in order. If anything, these are the people who deserve the most credit out of this.
Whether it was just telling players where to go or helping answer any questions, Jayme, Kyleigh and Kelly ran the show effectively and made it easy on everyone who attended. Perrott even stepped into a new role during the Showcase. She went from hockey mom to PR representative. Whatever was needed this crew stepped up and stepped out of their comfort zone to make sure the players had everything they needed during their stay in Erie.
The End Result? Zero Positive Covid Cases
Because of the tremendous effort put forth by the volunteers and players, the Erie Junior Showcase went the entire two weeks without one positive Covid-19 test. Not one.
Players were tested multiple times throughout the event. At first, they went to local pharmacies to get tested. Then this past Friday, an independent group came to ErieBank Sports Park to conduct testing on site.
The last batch of tests came in on Sunday morning and confirmed no positive tests. There was some concern about being able to pull this kind of thing off. But with vaccine rollout and taking extra precautions, everyone did their part and contributed to this result.
Feeling Normal Again
Here’s what makes the test results even more remarkable. There were no restrictions. Masks were not mandatory. Players were free to go places without restriction. Many of them went to the golf course or the beach on their off days. Players got together in their hotel rooms during the day and at night. They got to experience living a normal life again.
The scouts who came to the Showcase for the most part didn’t wear masks. I was able to conduct in-person interviews in the gym. This was not a bubble-like scenario in which players, scouts, volunteers, media and others had to follow strict guidelines. They could roam around as they needed to.
But again, not one positive test. That’s the story of this Showcase.
The Spotlight Is On Ontario & the OHL
It only took the established team about a month to put everything together for the Showcase. Every last detail down to the rosters was figured out by the volunteers. They were able to do it with no issues and no positive Covid cases.
They have proven that it can be done. The onus now falls back on Ontario and the OHL to not let a repeat of last season happen again. Every player I spoke to said something similar. There should be no excuses when it comes to starting the 2021-22 season on time.
Let their words paint the picture for you.
- Andrew Perrott: “Let’s get it done for next year. Let’s not let what happened this year happen again. There were absolutely no restrictions here. That should be proof in the pudding that there should be no hiccups next year. There should be no excuses.”
- Ryan Humphrey: “The love of the game that we have, we look forward to this. We’ve been doing it our whole lives. If anything, don’t take the game away from us, that’s what we love to do.”
- Roberto Mancini: “(The Showcase) is pretty surreal. It feels like I’m living my life again.”
- Jesse Fishman: “I think it’s a great message to send to the OHL that something can happen. I don’t think there should be any pushback or any delays. Let’s take the safety protocols. I know they’re rolling out the vaccine in Canada. Let’s be able to take the right precautions and play hockey. It’s what everyone loves so let’s just do it.”
- Davis Codd: “Health is the first thing that’s important, but there are no excuses. We had zero positive Covid tests. Here in America there is no restrictions and life is normal. So I think there should be no excuses going into the start of the OHL season. We should be ready to go and there should be no hiccups.”
- Brendan Hoffmann: “In my personal stance, there shouldn’t be an excuse. Look at those (who lost a year) especially those who are going into their first OHL season as their draft year. I feel the responsibility not just to the OHL but onto everybody who loves the sport of hockey and is involved in being able to have someone play it or organize it should be the responsibility to see every player play and have the chance to succeed.”
- Ryan Beck: “With our circumstances, we will a little bit later with it, so we had the luck of the draw in terms of the cases. But going into next season, I hope we play. As of right now things are looking good so let’s hope it stays that way. I think if we can do it and a lot of guys can get together and make this happen I believe we should be able to have a good season next season.”
- Logan Morrison: “They should know how serious we take it. We could have been out doing things risking getting infected but everyone took it seriously. People need to realize we’re doing absolutely everything we can to play hockey safely.”
- Tucker Robertson: “They (Ontario/OHL) need to hear that it’s possible. With no positive tests and vaccines rolling out and cases in Ontario going down, I think (a season) definitely should happen. There’s no reason it shouldn’t.”
- Joseph Serpa: “Everything here (in Erie) went well. And I’ve seen where teams have had some guys together playing games and they had no positive tests. I think it’s a step in the right direction for the hockey world.”
They Did It
At the end of the day, the team led by Perrott, Hoffmann, Humphrey and Beck were able to pull the showcase off. Everyone I spoke to from scouts to fans had nothing but positive things to say about the event and the way things were handled.
And no matter what happens, they’ve won. What will Perrott take away from these two weeks? “Just the life experiences that I’m going to get from it that I can fall back on…one guy if their hockey career changes from this then that’s a success. We win at the end of the day.”
The players who came to Erie will all be able to look back at this event down the road as the very thing that could dictate where their lives go. It was an opportunity to give those affected by the lost year a chance to show what they’ve got. But through it all they gained new friendships and learned life lessons that they’ll take with them wherever they go.
The Erie Junior Showcase was a huge success. It proved that an OHL Season can succeed. Now the spotlight shines on Ontario and the OHL to make sure there is a season with no delays. This group put the event together in one month. With that in mind, there truly is no excuse if a season doesn’t start on time.
It’s your move Ontario and OHL.
Emptying My Notebook
Here are some notes and observations I had from my time at the Erie Junior Showcase. They’re in no particular order.
- Logan Morrison finished the Showcase with the most points. He had 6-9-15 in just eight games.
- As for draft eligibles, Tucker Robertson led the way with 3-11-14 in 10 games. He said he felt he was ranked too low and came to Erie to show everyone how good he is.
- I still do not know how James Hardie was passed over last season. He, Hoffmann and Kaleb Pearson each led the Showcase with seven goals each.
- Hardie said he is a better skater now. I do not think he gets passed over again.
- The prospect that got the most buzz, Francesco Arcuri. He scored two goals in the Top Prospect’s Game and had six goals total during his two weeks. He and Fishman worked out together in Tampa before coming to the Showcase. They had obvious chemistry playing together.
- NHL teams are already coveting Erie Otters G Nolan Lalonde. Many feel he will be the best goalie in the OHL in 2-3 years. Teams came to Erie getting a jump start on scouting him.
- I had a scout ask me if that was Jamie Drysdale skating? It wasn’t him but it was Spencer Sova. Multiple scouts indicated he was one of the best skaters in the field of everyone who attended.
- Imagine being Davis (T-Bone) Codd. He missed three days of the Showcase to play golf back in Michigan. But it was for his high school golf team. He won the tournament.
- To celebrate, Codd came back and played in the Top Prospect’s Game Sunday after arriving at midnight. Why did he come back? “With the times that have happened, it’s not everyday you get to have NHL scouts coming to watch you. It killed me to miss 3 days for golf. I had the opportunity to come back & I felt I needed to do that so I could showcase my skills in front of the scouts.”
- Max Namestnikov and Ty Voit could be very fun in the years to come for Sarnia.
- 30 NHL teams had scouts on hand at some point. Only Seattle and Calgary were not there.
- Among some of the bigger names to appear, Kris Draper, Brian Burke, David Morehouse (his son Jackson was in the Showcase) and Brent Flahr.
- Logan Mailloux was impressive especially with his skating. He made it clear why he was one of the best draft-eligible players at the Showcase.
- The scouts restaurant of choice in Erie? Buffalo Wild Wings. That’s where most of them went on Draft Lottery night.
- Scouts loved Erie because they could walk into a Tim Horton’s and go right to the counter. No waiting in a big line.
- The prevailing feeling amongst the players when the season was canceled: “My heart dropped.” Many were devastated.
- Players gave credit to their teams for keeping them engaged all throughout, most on a weekly basis on Zoom.
- A sad note: Some players are going right back to the way things were before they came to Erie. That is with restrictions. For these two weeks, players got to enjoy a normal life playing hockey while hanging with the guys. It was surreal for them because of how long it had been since they got to do this. Let’s hope that normalcy takes control again soon all over the region.
We are about three months away from the proposed start of training camps in the OHL. If the players proved anything through this Showcase, it’s that three months is more than enough time to ensure everything is ready in September for camp.
The OHL can have a successful season. The evidence of that played out over two weeks in Erie. The message is loud and clear. The time to return to normal starts right now.