There was no shortage of Christmas spirit across the Canadian Hockey League with the holiday season now in full swing:
Teddy Bear Toss
Annual Teddy Bear Toss nights continued across the circuit with a handful of clubs getting in on the fun, including Barrie, Edmonton, Lethbridge, London, Mississauga, Moose Jaw, Niagara, Oshawa, Peterborough, Portland, Regina, Sarnia, Spokane, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg.
Standing out from the crowd were the Oil Kings and the Giants, who took the theme night one step further – the Oil Kings sported special teddy bear stylized jerseys, while the Giants stole the show with Grinch themed uniforms. Elsewhere, the Generals and Kamloops Blazers made the event extra special in delivering the furry friends to local areas in need. Unique uniforms were also seen in the QMJHL as the Gatineau Olympiques sported a candy cane inspired look in competing against the 67’s in the Battle of the Ottawa River.
The annual event, which sees fans toss stuffed animals on to the ice after the home team scores its first goal, collects the plush toys to donate to local charitable organizations in an effort to support families and children who are in need over the Christmas holidays.
Wawanesa Toy Drive
Fans across the CHL are also invited to donate new and unwrapped toys as part of the 36-stop Wawanesa Toy Drive that continued this weekend with events held in Prince George, Vancouver, Cape Breton, Drummondville, Ottawa, and Shawinigan. Fans who donate will be entered in a grand prize draw that will award a trip for two to the 2020 Memorial Cup Presented by Kia held in Kelowna, B.C.
Zary joins Canada’s camp
With change comes opportunity. With Moncton Wildcats forward and Calgary Flames prospect Jakob Pelletier forced to the sidelines following an injury, Kamloops Blazers forward and 2020 NHL Draft hopeful Connor Zary joins Canada’s camp as a late addition, hoping to seize the moment and earn a spot at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.
Also joining the team is Drummondville Voltigeurs graduate Joseph Veleno, who is in first pro season with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, the farm club of the Detroit Red Wings. It marks the second time Veleno – who was granted exceptional status into the QMJHL in 2015 – has competed at the World Juniors following a five-game showing last year in which he finished with two assists.
Latest draft rankings
Sportsnet draft expert Sam Cosentino released his latest projections ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft with 15 CHL talents ranked within the Top 31:
1. Alexis Lafreniere, Rimouski Oceanic
2. Quinton Byfield, Sudbury Wolves
4. Cole Perfetti, Saginaw Spirit
5. Marco Rossi, Ottawa 67’s
7. Jamie Drysdale, Erie Otters
12. Justin Barron, Halifax Mooseheads
13. Hendrix Lapierre, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
15. Braden Schneider, Brandon Wheat Kings
16. Dawson Mercer, Drummondville Voltigeurs
19. Jack Quinn, Ottawa 67’s
22. Connor Zary, Kamloops Blazers
23. Justin Sourdif, Vancouver Giants
24. Mavrik Bourque, Shawinigan Cataractes
25. Jeremie Poirier, Saint John Sea Dogs
30. Jean-Luc Foudy, Windsor Spitfires
The 2020 NHL Draft will be held June 26 and 27 in Montreal.
Lafreniere heads to school
Rimouski Oceanic captain and 2020 NHL Draft favourite Alexis Lafreniere was back in familiar territory in visiting his childhood school in Saint-Eustache, Que., this week, an opportunity that allowed him meet and greet with students and give back to the local community.
Toropchenko gets his ring
Winners are forever remembered with championship rings, with the Guelph Storm as the latest Ontario Hockey League club to don the commemorative jewelry after the squad hoisted the J. Ross Robertson Cup last spring. With much of that lineup since graduating, the Storm have made it their mission to deliver the rings this season with former forward Alexei Toropchenko the latest to receive his special keepsake.
Providing invaluable secondary scoring for the Storm last season, Toropchenko continued that strong play into the postseason where he finished with 13 goals and six assists for 19 points in 24 games en route to the championship. The Russian forward has since entered the pro ranks where this season he is competing with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage, the top minor-league affiliate of the St. Louis Blues who selected him in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Draft.
Kingston honours Clifford
The Kingston Frontenacs paid tribute to their heritage this weekend in sporting Kingston Canadians uniforms in recognition of the franchise’s former moniker that was a part of the OHL from 1973-88. The following year, the club became known as the Raiders, a name that lasted for a single season before the franchise took on its modern day Frontenacs nickname.
As part of the celebration, the club recognized former Canadians netminder Chris Clifford, who suited up in the Kingston crease for 196 appearances from 1983-87. Clifford’s time in Kingston was record setting as during the 1985-86 campaign he became the first OHL netminder to score a goal, a mark that stood until 2004 when Justin Peters (Toronto St. Michael Majors) pulled off the feat.
Stajan hangs them up
Former OHL forward Matt Stajan has hung up the skates following a 14-year NHL career that spanned 1,003 career contests and totaled 413 points as he split time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames from 2002-18. The Mississauga, Ont., native then closed out his pro career last season in skating with the Munich Red Bulls, who compete in the top-tier pro league in Germany.
Skating in the OHL from 2000-03, Stajan spent his entire three-year junior career with the Belleville Bulls, amassing 206 points counting 76 goals and 130 assists over 182 appearances. In 2002, he was selected in the second round of the NHL Draft by the Maple Leafs, while the following winter saw him earn a silver medal with Team Canada at the 2003 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.
Rico Phillips shares vision
A special guest was on hand at recent OHL 2020s Vision meetings in Rico Phillips, the inaugural winner of the NHL’s Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award. Sharing his message that in order to grow the league must reach out to non-traditional fans, Phillips speaks from experience in having formed the Flint Inner-City Hockey Program that helps expose youth to hockey. Phillips has worked alongside the Firebirds to build the hockey community in Flint, while he is now encouraging others to copy his approach in other junior markets.