For a select group of those players, the OHL Cup Showcase Tournament is a last chance to put their best game forward and hopefully catch the eye of an OHL scout or coach.
Twenty-three of the top players from the Northern Ontario Hockey Association have come together as one unit to compete in the tournament under the Team NOHA banner.
The tournament runs March 12-16 at Buckingham Arena in Toronto.
The selection for the team began last August with an evaluation camp, according to Albert Corradini, director of operations for Team NOHA.
“We have two months after that to do evaluations, speak to their coaches and identify the 23 players who have scored well enough at that point in time,” Corradini said.
“It's not ideal — it's November and we're trying to extrapolate who's going to play well into the end of the season — but I think we do a fair job.”
Because Team NOHA is an assembled group of players from a variety of teams across the north, they enter the tournament as underdogs, playing against 19 other powerhouse teams from Ontario and the United States, that have either won or been the runners-up in their respective leagues.
“Remarkably for a team that is going down and playing against teams that have played 50, 60, 70 games, we've fared well,” Corradini said.
This will be Team NOHA's second trip to the tournament, which has been running for nearly a decade. Last year, the team failed to make it beyond the round robin, but the team brass is hopeful they'll see an improvement this time around.
While it's a one-time deal for the players, head coach Sal Lamantea is back for his second year, and he's been doing his research. As the head coach of the Soo Thunder Minor Midget team, Lamantea said this showcase tournament requires a different approach when it comes to coaching.
“There are a lot of highs and lows being a team that's just put together, but I think we're more prepared,” he said. “It's very challenging. As a coach, I did a lot of research on short-term competition, ie. the World Juniors, and coaches' attitudes and how they bring kids together and get them to play.”
He said the key is keeping it simple.
“We have broken down our game into small segments and simple systems that the players can understand,” the coach said.
Overall, he said he wants to see the highest possible compete level from his players from start to finish.
“Be the best player they can be for 30 seconds for me every time and show the OHL their best skills,” Lamantea added.
Kirk Trayner is one of eight players from the Sudbury area who cracked the roster for Team NOHA. A defenceman with the Nickel City Sons Minor Midget team, Trayner said he's excited to be taking part in the OHL Cup.
“It's a big honour,” the Capreol native said. “I think I've been the first kid from my town to make it, too, so it's a big thing. It's a really looked-at tournament. Every one wants to be a part of it.”
Despite the team's underdog ranking, Trayner said his team will be able to hold its own in competition.
“We've played against each other in the past years. From my team, we all know our advantages and disadvantages and the guys we play against, too, we know what they're good at and what they're bad at, so we know what we need to work on together. Hopefully we'll come together at these practices and work better together.”
The team had one last practice at the Sudbury Arena before jumping on the bus to head to Mississauga Wednesday.
For updates on the OHL Cup, visit ontariohockeyleague.com.