Each year the OHL Cup welcomes the hockey stars of tomorrow.
Last night those future stars attended the annual tournament banquet, where members from the 20 OHL Cup teams became familiar with the event’s history and were introduced to all that the OHL has to offer.
Many special guests were in attendance, including OHL Commissioner and CHL President David Branch, who revealed that it is the OHL Cup, and not the famed Memorial Cup, that is the highlight of his hockey calendar.
A trio of Oshawa Generals spoke, headlined by captain and GTHL alumnus Anthony Cirelli, who firmly entrenched himself in junior hockey lore by scoring the game winner in the Memorial Cup final last season, in the last game at the Coliseé in Quebec City.
Thursday evening was especially memorable for several talented up and coming young players as the seven Ontario hockey associations named their Minor Midget Player of the Year.
This year’s winner from the GTHL was smooth-skating defenseman Ryan Merkley of the Toronto Jr. Canadiens. When asked by Sportsnet OHL commentator and banquet host Sam Cosentino which NHLer he tries to emulate, Merkley aptly replied Duncan Keith.
The similarities are quite evident, because like Keith, Merkley is a workhorse on the back end, logging hard minutes in all game situations. They’re also both well equipped offensively with quick and heavy shots from the point making it through crowded slots with help from their agile moves along the line.
“It’s a great honour to be recognized for this award, especially because I wasn’t expecting to win it,” said Merkley.
Six other players received the honour: Paul Larabie (HEO), Damien Giroux (NOHA), Quinton Loon-Stewardson (HNO), Owen Lalande (ALLIANCE), Aidan Dudas (ETA) and Adam McMaster (SCTA).
The award may have caught Merkley by surprise, but it certainly was well deserved. He totaled seven goals and 36 assists in the regular season and also posted five points as a member of Team Canada at the Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
Merkley, who also played for the Jr. Canadiens in the 2015 OHL Cup, believes that experience has helped him handle the pressure this time around. Though he was honoured to receive the individual award, Merkley’s focus – like that of all players in attendance last night – remains on the ultimate goal of taking home team hardware, the OHL Cup.