Three local hockey players are one step closer to making it into the Ontario Hockey League after being chosen in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection on Saturday.
Mitch Hoelscher of West Montrose, Tyler McBay of Elmira, and Keanan Stewart of Conestogo were selected.
Hoelscher and McBay both played on a fill-in basis with the Elmira Sugar Kings this season as associate players, gaining some higher level experience. Hoelscher and McBay also played for the Waterloo Wolves Minor Midget AAA team and Stewart played for the Guelph Jr. Gryphons Minor Midget AAA team this season.
While being selected is a big accomplishment, they still have to impress the coaches at OHL prospects camps later this year.
Hoelscher reflected on his time playing with the Sugar Kings this season.
“It really opened my mind up to what the next level is because guys are bigger and stronger. You can’t get away on skill alone. You’ve got to be an all around player and show how strong you are out there,” Hoelscher said.
The forward scored 45 goals and 47 assists while playing minor midget. He said the week leading up to the draft was exciting.
“Saturday couldn’t have come any quicker. I was really nervous when it was going on but I told my dad once it happened it’s probably one of the greatest feelings I’ve had in my life, so it’s pretty special,” Hoelscher said.
He didn’t know which team, if any, would select him. But as he watched with his parents, grandmothers, and older brother Klayton, who plays for the Sugar Kings, it was a special moment when his name came on the screen.
“All my work I’ve done leading up to this to kind of get rewarded, to pay off, it’s really surreal, but it’s just one step and I’m looking forward to putting work in to be a 67 next year,” Hoelscher said.
The Ottawa 67s selected Hoelscher in the third round (56th overall).
He says he’d like to go further in hockey, but the OHL is first for him. And it’s hard to put into words what the support he’s received means to him.
“It’s crazy. Everywhere I go everyone’s been congratulating me at school, at arenas. It’s really nice to see because these people have all been the ones that have got me to where I am today,” Hoelscher said.
Waiting to find out if he’d get picked up in the draft was stressful for Stewart because his team’s been done playing for a while.
He didn’t know for sure he’d be going to Owen Sound but he knew it was possible because his agent said they were interested earlier in the year. The Owen Sound Attack chose Stewart (101st overall) in the fifth round.
“It was a relief. I was very excited and happy,” Stewart said.
The forward accumulated 19 goals and 11 assists this season with Guelph.
“I think it prepared me in a good way. I played for Waterloo for five years and in major bantam I switched to go play for Guelph and went from major bantam to minor midget, and I think that really helped me. I played a lot more and developed a lot as a player, which helped me a lot going into the draft this year,” Stewart said.
Just like his colleagues, his goal is to play professional hockey, but he recognizes that’s a long road.
“I’ll be in the gym a lot this summer and on the ice a lot obviously, going to a couple Junior B camps just to skate, see how I can do in those, but mostly working out and getting stronger,” Stewart said.
And he adds it would be “pretty cool” to play in front of his friends and family in the future on a bigger stage.
“I’ve had lots of support from my parents especially, driving me to the rink every day. My grandparents, my brother, everybody all supporting me along the way has been really nice,” Stewart said.
McBay recorded six goals and 12 assists with the Waterloo Wolves this season in his role as a defenseman.
“I was nervous, but it was also exciting because everything that you worked for is leading up to that,” McBay said.
The Saginaw Spirit picked up McBay in the eighth round (146th overall).
He says playing with Elmira for the one game he was called up was actually easier than playing midget because the Sugar Kings were in the right position to take passes and had that experience.
“Minor hockey was an unbelievable experience. Not only did it create new friendships that carried through your whole minor hockey career, but it also made you a better person, I felt. These friendships that I made with teammates and families are going to last a lifetime. They just made draft day so much less stressful because you had all that support around you,” he said.
McBay says he’s honoured to get the chance to represent Elmira on a larger stage, but it will take lots of hard work this summer if he hopes to play in the OHL come the fall. He’ll be attending a Beyond The Next Level hockey training camp for the month of July, for five days a week of on and off ice training.
“My dream is to play professional hockey, like any minor hockey kid growing up, but I just want to play where I can develop better as a hockey player and person,” McBay said.
And he can’t forget the people who’ve made it possible for him to make it this far.
“My parents, they played a big factor in where I am today and who I am today. I couldn’t have done it without them. They supported me every step of the way. They supported every decision that I’ve made. They’ve always been there for me,” McBay said.