In the blink of an eye, the 12th Annual Toronto Titans Early Bird Prospect Tournament has come and gone, officially opening the 2019-20 Minor Midget season and providing an early glimpse into the 2020 OHL Priority Selection.
In what was a truly entertaining week of hockey, the 53 teams involved in the tournament gave fans and families alike a look into the special talent available in the 2004-born OHL Draft class.
Following a high-paced and high-scoring Round Robin portion of the tournament, six teams entered the elongation round with perfect 4-0-0 records; the Toronto Jr. Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, Quinte Red Devils, Toronto Titans, Toronto Nationals, and Ajax-Pickering Raiders.
The Round of 16 commenced on Saturday night and provided some nail-biting games, as well as a couple of major upsets. The undefeated Red Devils were downed by the Mississauga in a crazy and back-and-forth contest that finished 7-6. The Raiders also drew a tough draw, and eventually bowed out in a tight game to the Toronto Marlboros, 2-0.
Early Sunday morning, the Quarter-Finals took place, with six of the eight teams coming from the GTHL. In the end, the Titans, Jr. Canadiens, Mississauga Reps, and Nationals came away victorious, settling up an all-GTHL Semi-Final.
In a battle of two high-octane offences, the Jr. Canadiens came away with the win over the Titans by a final of 5-3. Meanwhile, in a much more defence-oriented matchup, the Nationals continued to roll in a 2-0 victory over the upstart Reps.
That set up a Final between the Jr. Canadiens and the Nationals. JRC came out strong to start the game and were rewarded with a quick 2-0 lead in the first period, in the back of two power play goals. The Nats would respond, but entered the first intermission down 2-1.
Following a tight checking second period, the Nats were able to claw back and tie the game at two. Later, with four minutes remaining in the third, Wilson Farrow was able to sneak a shot by and give the Nats a late, 3-2 lead. Two empty-net goals later, and the Toronto Nationals found themselves as the 2019 Titans Early Bird Champions.
As mentioned, the tournament provided an outlet for numerous players to make a name for themselves heading into their OHL Draft year.
While the expected stars held their own and were consistently impressive, many prospects were able to showcase their talents and drive their name into the conversation of the 2020 OHL Draft’s top prospects.
1: Aidan Castle – Right Wing – Toronto Jr. Canadiens (GTHL)
Our selection for the 2019 Titans Early Bird Tournament MVP, Aidan Castle wrapped up the tournament ranking second in goals, with nine, and first in points, with 18. Castle was as consistent as can be through the Jr. Canadiens eight games, tallying at least one point in each and every contest, leading the team all the way to the Final.
Featuring a feisty and competitive nature, Castle is a hound on the puck and leads by example with a consistent effort level at both ends of the ice. With a low, strong center of gravity, Castle can be very difficult to knock off of the puck, which poses problems for opponents as he causes havoc on the cycle down low. From there, he creates scoring chances by jumping off of the half wall either with puck possession or to slip behind defenders to make himself a viable passing option. Castle can also be a noticeable physical presence on the forecheck, effectively using his strength to separate opponents from the puck and force turnovers.
2: Ty Nelson – Defence – Toronto Jr. Canadiens (GTHL)
Ty Nelson quickly proved his upside as a two-way defender at this year’s Toronto Titans Early Bird, adding four goals and nine assists in the tournament, ranking fourth overall with 13 points, as the Jr. Canadiens went on to a second place finish. This wasn’t Nelson’s first rodeo at the Titans Early Bird either, as the blue-chip prospect participated in last year’s tournament as a member of the ’03 Jr. Canadiens.
Nelson is regarded as one of the top defence prospects for the 2020 OHL Draft, showcasing elite skating skills and a tremendous sense of the ice, he can truly be an impact player at both ends of the rink. Nelson showed an innate ability to escape pressure with the puck on his stick, and excelled in transitioning the play up ice through a multitude of options. He also patrols the blue line with poise and confidence, and distributes the puck laterally on the power play. As well, he likes to use a quick snap shot from the point, looking for seams between traffic to catch goaltenders off-guard.
3: Zak Lavoie – Center – Toronto Nationals (GTHL)
A member of the ’04 Jr. Canadiens in bantam, Zak Lavoie took his talents to the Toronto Nationals organization for the minor midget season in hopes of being the player his team can lean on. With so much talent on JRC, both returning and incoming, Lavoie opted to search for the spotlight, and potentially create a dark-horse team in the GTHL. If the Titans Early Bird was any indication, he may have done just that.
Lavoie was one of the most dynamic forwards in the tournament from start to finish, racking up 10 goals and one assist in the tournament, leading the way in goals, as the Nats fought their way to a surprising Championship. As indicated by his goal total, Lavoie is a natural scorer with a wicked release and pin-point accuracy. He reads the ice really well in the offensive zone, and is always moving his feet in order to slip into open ice and make himself a passing option. He’s got quick and creative hands as well, making himself dangerous in tight space.
4: Nicholas Moldenhauer – Right Wing – Toronto Titans (GTHL)
After taking home the OHF All-Ontario Bantam Championships, expectations are high for the Toronto Titans entering the 2019-20 season. One player who will be leaned on heavily to drive the team’s offence is Nicholas Moldenhauer, and he did just that at the Titans Early Bird. Finishing the tournament with six goals and eight assists, to rank third overall with 14 points, Moldenhauer was a key component on the Titans run to the Semi-Finals.
Moldenhauer combines speed, skill, and awareness to consistently be one of the most dangerous players on the ice. He always has his head up and is constantly reading developing plays for opportunities to force turnovers or create odd-man rushes. With quick hands and a powerful stride, Moldenhauer is especially dangerous on the rush and off of the half-wall. With a strong surrounding cast, Moldenhauer should be one of the top offensive contributors all year long.
5: Pano Fimis – Center – Toronto Jr. Canadiens (GTHL)
More of an under-the-radar forward for the star-studded Jr. Canadiens, Pano Fimis utilizes the Titan Early Bird Tournament to create a name for himself heading into the regular season. Despite the bigger names surrounding him, Fimis centred the most productive line in the tournament and played a responsible 200-foot game to boot. In the end, Fimis racked up six goals and 11 assists to finish second in tournament scoring with 17 points.
An intelligent, two-way center with lots of offensive upside, Fimis proved his value as a player who can be leaned on in any situation, at both ends of the ice. Reading the ice well, he is an effective playmaker who can create time and space for his teammates by slowing the game down and drawing defenders towards him. He also has a deceptive release and is able to get pucks on and off his blade in an instant to catch goaltenders off guard.
6: Adam Fantilli – Center – Toronto Jr. Canadiens (GTHL)
The projected 1st overall pick for the 2020 OHL Draft, Adam Fantilli has entered the 2019-20 campaign with lofty expectations surrounding his name. After shredding minor midget as an under ager in 2018-19, Fantilli took his talents back to JRC after one year with the Toronto Red Wings. After a relatively slow start, Fantilli wrapped up the tournament with seven goals and four assists, finishing tied for fifth in tournament scoring.
Adam Fantilli has so many strengths to his game that it’s tough to sum them up concisely. With an electric first three steps, Fantilli has elite speed through the middle of the ice. Despite a December birth-date, he is clearly stronger than his opposition, who bounce off when trying to separate Fantilli from the puck. With a dynamic wrist shot, he can pick corners from short angles or simply blow pucks past opposing goaltenders. With a battery that doesn’t die, Fantilli is the definition of an offensive spark-plug.
7: Kyle Downey – Goaltender – Toronto Nationals (GTHL)
A huge reason for the Nats surge to the Titans Early Bird Championship was defence and goaltending, as the team allowed a combined eight goals across eight games of tournament action. Kyle Downey, along with his partner Nick Tsatsanis, were the last line of defence for the Nats, and were arguably the main reason behind the team’s success.
Downey came up huge when the games counted the most, showcasing an elite level of confidence and focus between the pipes. After falling behind 2-0 in the Championship game against the Jr. Canadiens, Downey didn’t blink, holding down the fort and giving the Nats a shot at a memorable comeback. Downey put his athleticism and lateral movement on display, making a number of highlight reel stops. With great size and positioning to boot, Downey proved his ability to single-handedly take over the course of a game.
8: Donovan McCoy – Defence – Quinte Red Devils (ETA)
One of the favourites for this tournament after capturing the OMHA Championships in 2018-19, the Quinte Red Devils bowed out earlier than they would’ve liked in the Round of 16. While the offence wasn’t up to it’s usual pace, Donovan McCoy was a consistent standout on the back-end. With tremendous speed and instincts through the neutral zone, McCoy was consistently able to jump into the rush to create offence.
Sporting solid size and some impressive strength, McCoy proved too much to handle for his opponents. While he can lock things down in his own end with an effective stick and body positioning, McCoy really takes over the game in the transition aspect. He can dish out three-line passes or skate the puck end-to-end himself. In the offensive zone, McCoy showed smart shot selection from the point, along with the skill to pinch in and drive the net as well.
9: Julian Facchinelli – Center – Markham Majors (GTHL)
Although the final result may not have been what the Markham Majors had drawn up, they showed some serious fight in earning a 2-2-0 round robin record. Leading the charge for the Majors was standout, Julian Facchinelli, who tallied an impressive eight goals in just four games to lead the tournament in goals through the round robin.
Facchinelli has spent time with the Jr. Canadiens and Mississauga Senators organization in the past, before moving to the Majors for Bantam and Minor Midget. He will undoubtedly continue to be the shining star for Markham throughout the course of the season, showcasing his wicked release and accuracy, as well as his sense of the ice to be able to find open ice in the offensive zone. A shifty skater, Facchinelli also has the skills to go end-to-end too. He will draw the focus of his opponents all year long.
10: Hunter Haight – Center – Elgin Middlesex Chiefs (Alliance)
Last year’s Alliance Champs, the Elgin Middlesex Chiefs didn’t exactly start off the 2019-20 season in the way they’d imagined, battling to a 2-2-0 record in the Round Robin. However, there were plenty of bright spots to build upon in hopes of defending their Alliance title. One of those bright spots was returning star forward, Hunter Haight, who added four goals and four assists to rank tied for fifth in points following the Round Robin.
With an admirable work ethic at both ends of the ice, Haight is a responsible, 200-foot player who can be trusted in any situation. Often regarded as more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer, Haight utilized the Titans Early Bird to prove that he can be a finisher as well. Showcasing impressive hockey sense, Haight is able to dictate the pace of play in the offensive zone and can effectively draw defenders out of position. Strong on his edges, Haight is a shifty skater and also has a quick yet powerful release.
Here are a few players who got serious consideration for the list of top-10 performers, but just missed out. However, they deserved some recognition as well. Players are listed in alphabetical order.
- Sam Alfano – Southern Tier Admirals (SCTA)
- Cole Bianchin – Pittsburgh Penguins Elite (T1EHL)
- Lorenzo Bonaiuto – Toronto Marlboros (GTHL)
- Ryder McIntyre – Ajax-Pickering Raiders (ETA)
- Michael Podolioukh – Toronto Jr. Canadiens (GTHL)
- Matthew Poitras – Whitby Wildcats (ETA)
- Nathan Poole – Oshawa Generals (ETA)
- Shawn Ramsey – Toronto Nationals (GTHL)
- Jake Sederoff – Toronto Titans (GTHL)
- Max Seguin – Toronto Nationals (GTHL)
- Trent Swick – Southern Tier Admirals (SCTA)
- Noah Van Vliet – Toronto Jr. Canadiens (GTHL)
- Joshua Vogelsberg – Mississauga Reps (GTHL)