It’s going to become a more difficult question with the new OHL U18 Draft in place. Where do you go following your Minor Midget ‘AAA’ season?
We’ll assume Junior B or A is the first answer. But if that doesn’t work out, where next?
For many, at least locally, the answer has always been, Junior C, and if that doesn’t work out, families are left deciding whether to make the drive to Windsor or Sarnia for Major Midget ‘AAA’, or watch their son take a developmental step back to ‘AA’.
Perhaps though, the question of Major Midget ‘AAA’ should come much earlier. Perhaps it always should have been the next option following Junior B tryouts.
With only one spot for 16-year-olds available in Junior C, the sample size is small locally, but let’s look at how our local teams have done sending players to the next level, and remember, 16-year-olds in Junior C can’t affiliate to Junior B, but players in Major Midget ‘AAA’ can… almost as if Major Midget is actually the planned developmental route.
The Dresden Kings have had success moving on their 16-year-olds, and other young players in recent seasons including Ross Krieger (North York, OJHL), Kyle Dawson (London, GOJHL), Eric Carter (Chatham, GOJHL), Brady Hogg (Strathroy, GOJHL), Dede Cato (LaSalle, GOJHL and a brief call up to the OHL), Travis Moore (Sarnia, GOJHL), Isaac McLean (Lambton Shores, GOJHL), and Blake Blondeel (Windsor, CIS via Chatham, GOJHL).
The Blenheim Blades have a similar list including Ted McGeen (Chatham, GOJHL), Blair Derynck (Chatham, GOJHL), Nolan VandenBoorn (Chatham, GOJHL), Kier Cumming (Sweden), and Brayden Hopkins (Sweden).
The Wallaceburg Lakers have moved Ryan Gruszka (Iroquois Falls, NOJHL), Brett Storr (Sarnia, GOJHL), Mike Zottl (Mississauga, OJHL), and Frank Saputo (Oakland, ACHA).
In Wheatley, the Sharks have Nolan Gardiner (Ottawa, OHL), Cheyne Matheson (Liege, BeNeLiga), Austin Thompson (Chatham, GOJHL), Cale Phibbs (Leamington, GOJHL), Scott Florence (Leamington, GOJHL), Alixe Saliba (Chatham, GOJHL), and Thomas Virban (Leamington, GOJHL).
From recent results, Junior C hasn’t been a path for future OHL players locally, with the exception of Nolan Gardiner, but players can use it as a stepping stone to Junior B and college. Just as often as not however, Junior B players end up back in Junior C to finish out their careers.
Looking at the Major Midget ‘AAA’ list, it’s long. Some players went from Major Midget to Junior C, but most stepped to Junior B directly, and more had a higher ceiling, that including the OHL, college, or pro hockey. There are literally dozens of players from the Windsor Major Midget ‘AAA’ team in the GOJHL and Junior A, a handful in the CIS, and another handful playing NCAA Division I hockey, and yes, there are some pros.
If you drive up the highway to the Lambton Major Midget ‘AAA’ program, the results are similar. Dozens in Junior B, and a spattering at higher levels.
Sure, we can look at the Matt Martin and Ryan Jones cases for Junior C. They exist, and shouldn’t be forgotten.
We can also look at 16-year-olds specifically. Since 2013-2014, the Wheatley Sharks have advanced Nolan Gardiner to the LaSalle Vipers and then Ottawa 67s. The Blenheim Blades sent Blair Derynck to the Chatham Maroons, and Drew Marlatt to the Lambton Shores Predators (although he returned to Blenheim). Wallaceburg saw Mike Zottl advance to Lambton Shores, while the most successful team at moving players, the Dresden Kings, moved up Eric Carter, Dede Cato, and Ross Krieger to Chatham, and Brady Hogg to Strathroy in the year following their 16-year-old season.
Needless to say, our local Junior C teams do well at developing players, and for some families, the drive to Windsor or Sarnia just isn’t economically feasible.
Still, the sheer mass of players advancing from Major Midget ‘AAA’, a league that is faster, and features more top to bottom skill than Junior C, begs the question, why is Junior C still the desired spot? It must be the prestige, the experience, and chance to play against older, stronger competition; because by all accounts, Major Midget looks to be the best developmental route, and will likely get even better with the new OHL draft involved.