Three star players from the North Central Predators, a AAA hockey program headquartered in Rama, have been chosen to play for Team Ontario at the upcoming Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alberta.
“To have a player selected to represent Team Ontario is a great accomplishment for a minor midget program,” said minor midget Predators coach Andrew Morris. “To have three selected from our program … is an incredible accomplishment.”
A pair of forwards, Cole Patey and Ethan Larmand, in addition to defenceman Connor Punnett will represent the Predators at the national event that runs from mid-February to March 2.
Morris said their selection to the team “speaks to what an amazing job the coaches throughout the years have done in developing these players.”
But it also is a testament to the work ethic and drive of the trio, he noted.
“It speaks to how incredibly driven and dedicated these three young men are,” said Morris. “This team is selected by a group of people including the Head of Central Scouting for the OHL and to have him select three players from North Central is unheard of.”
Morris explained that only 20 players from across the province made the cut.
“Don Mills, which is probably the best minor midget team I have seen in all my years, had five. We had three,” said Morris. “It’s amazing.”
While amazing, it is not surprising to those who have seen these teens dazzle on a frozen sheet of ice.
Morris had nothing but praise for each of his players.
“Cole Patey is our leader and probably has one of the best shots I have seen for a 15-year-old,” Morris said of the hard-working power forward from Utterson. “He is physical, skilled and drives our team’s offence. He is incredibly dedicated to our team game and has an outstanding ability to put the puck in the net.”
Larmand, who is from Midland, has proven to be a valuable two-way forward for the Preds this season.
“(He) is an incredible athlete, has an amazing work ethic and is an excellent two-way player,” said Morris. “He plays in all situations and has an amazing ability to score in and around the net.”
Punnet, meanwhile, anchors the strong team’s blueline.
“Connor Punnett is one of the best two-way defencemen in minor midget,” enthused Morris of the rugged Huntsville blueliner. “He has excellent offensive instincts, competes hard in all three zones and is a nightmare to go into a corner with. He plays hard every night and has an amazing drive to get better every day.”
The trio have helped the Predators get off to a strong start this year. The team has compiled an impressive 16-7-5 record and are currently tied for first place with York Simcoe Express in the Eastern AAA West Division. They have outscored their opponents 105-78.
Jacob Holmes, a defenceman for York Simcoe, has also been selected to Team Ontario, which means four players from the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) have been selected to represent their province at the Canada Winter Games.
“We are proud of all of the players selected and wish Jacob, Connor, Ethan and Cole the best of luck as they represent the OMHA and Team Ontario at the Canada Winter Games,” said Ian Taylor, Executive Director of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association.
In addition to OMHA players, skaters are also chosen from teams that compete in Hockey Eastern Ontario, Hockey Northwestern Ontario and the Ontario Hockey Federation.
Held every four years, the Canada Winter Games showcases the top under-16 hockey talent in the country.
Team Ontario will be entering the competition as the defending men’s hockey gold medalists having defeated Team Alberta four years ago in Prince George, BC.
All players have been evaluated since the start of the hockey season by team staff who took in a number of league games and major tournaments across the province spanning from Ottawa to Windsor, St. Catharines to Sudbury, and everywhere in between to identify the top talent.
The team selection was led by Director of Operations and Head of Ontario Hockey League Central Scouting, Darrell Woodley.
“We are excited about the players we have named to Team Ontario. The selection process was extremely difficult, but I believe we have a team that is highly skilled and will push the pace at the Canada Winter Games,” said Woodley.
Players will gather for a pre-tournament camp Feb. 11 to 14 at the Mastercard Centre for Hockey Excellence in Toronto before heading to Red Deer.