Forty of the Ontario Hockey League’s brightest stars took part in the All-Star festivities in Belleville, Ontario last week. The prospects spent two days, January 31 and February 1, showcasing their skills in an elaborate event that demonstrated the depth of junior talent currently playing in the league.
NHL draftees Dan Lacosta (CBJ), Kevin Lalande (CGY), Marc Staal (NYR), Scott Lehman (ATL), Tyler Haskins (DET), Wojtek Wolski (COL), Steve Downie (PHI), Benoit Pouliot (MIN), Derek Joslin (SJ), Adam Dennis (BUF), Matt Lashoff (BOS), Ryan Parent (NAS), Patrick McNeill (WAS), John Vigilante (NAS), Tyler Kennedy (PIT), Bobby Ryan (ANA), Evan McGrath (DET), Michael Blunden (CHI), Ryan O’Marra (NYI), Ryan Callahan (NYR), Chad Painchaud (ATL), Tom Pyatt (NYR), Robbie Schremp (EDM), Dylan Hunter (BUF), David Bolland (CHI), and Boris Valabik (ATL) participated in both days of the event. They were joined by 2006 NHL entry draft eligibles Cory Emmerton, Bryan Little, Jordan Staal, Chris Stewart, and Bobby Sanguinetti, as well as nine players who went undrafted in their first year of eligibility.
During the first evening of play, the players in the Eastern Conference of the league competed against those in the West in a skills competition of skating, puck control, and shooting. This was followed by a three-on-three (plus goalie) game, which consisted of two 10-minute non-stop periods with four lines rotating every 40 seconds. The skills competition consisted of five events, including the puck control relay, shooting accuracy, fastest skater, breakaway relay, and hardest shot.
Three 2006 draft eligibles, Sanguinetti, Little, and Jordan Staal, put on the best exhibition of puck handling and agility in the puck control relay. These younger players each put on a dazzling display to outmaneuver their elders around a pylon obstacle course to win points for their teams.
In the shooting accuracy competition, London Knights’ alternate captain Schremp was by far the most impressive marksman, shattering all four targets in less than 18 seconds. Although somewhat less accurate, but still outshining most of their fellow players, Ryan and Downie hit three targets.
The competition for fastest skater was so close that the top three players were two hundredths of a second apart. The contest was won by Atlanta prospect Painchaud, but both Kennedy and Callahan were clocked at almost the same speed.
The breakaway relay required each player to skate in on the goalie twice on the breakaway and take his best shot. A point was awarded toward the final tally to the team that got the most goals. The crowd was also given a chance to vote on the prettiest goal for an extra point. The audience voted that the most creative goals in the relay were scored by O’Marra and Wolski, and each team was given a point.
The hardest shot contest was won by Kitchener Ranger defenseman Valabik, whose slapshot registered at 96.3 mph. The 2004 first round NHL entry draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers, who is generally known more for his size and physical play than for his shot, was a late addition to the All-Star roster when Buffalo prospect Andrej Sekera was injured.
The three-on-three tended to feature teammates on OHL teams playing together as much as possible. The London Knights’ line of Schremp, Hunter, and Bolland played against Toronto St. Mike’s Majors’ Haskins, Lehman, and Justin Donati. Much to the crowd’s delight, the Eastern Conference coach Brian Kilrea played the Staal brothers together, and they showed some fancy passwork between them. By far the most impressive player in the three-on-three was Wolski, who scored two goals during the regular 20 minutes of play. The three-on-three game ended in a score of 6-6, and a shootout ensued. Wolski was the only player to score on his shot, registering his third goal of the game.
The following night, all 40 of the all-stars played in a 60-minute game. The Eastern stars beat the West by a score of 9-3, and Wolski was named the Eastern Player of the Game; Pyatt was named the most valuable player for the Western team. Several players stood out in the game and deserve special notice:
Tom Pyatt — Pyatt skated well and exhibited solid positioning on the ice. He scored two goals, was +1 in a game that saw nine goals scored against his team. Pyatt was by far the best player on the ice for the Western team.
Jordan Owens — The alternate captain of the Mississauga Ice Dogs went undrafted in the last two NHL entry drafts. The 5’11, 170 lb left winger, who is leading the Ice Dogs with 39 points this season (20 goals, 19 assists), showed that he has a dangerous shot and lightning speed in this game, scoring one goal and one assist for the Eastern team.
Justin Donati — Although Donati was also eligible for the NHL entry draft last year, he was not selected in 2005. This has been a breakout season for the diminutive right winger, who currently is seventh in the league in scoring (84 points in 44 games). In the All-Star game, Donati, who played on a line with Wolski and Toronto St. Michael’s teammate Haskins, showed incredible touch around the net, scoring two goals and adding an assist.
Wojtek Wolski — Wolski was far and away the best player on the ice for either team both nights of the OHL’s showcase. He showed that he can skate, pass, and score on a level not usually seen in this league. Wolski really played well with his linemates and every time they were on the ice, excitement followed. Wolski personally scored two goals and one assist in the game, but his three points do not reflect his dominance on the ice.
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