The annual Toronto Marlboros International Holiday Classic is once again upon us, and this year’s tournament is shaping up to be more competitive and intriguing than ever before.
In the upcoming 2018 event, a whopping 60 teams from throughout Canada and the United States will do battle in well over 150 games of fiery competition — a schedule which will afford scouts with ample opportunity to assess this year’s class of prospects eligible for selection in the 2019 Ontario Hockey League’s Priority Selection.
Related: OHL Draft Prospect Profiles
Leading the charge in the 2018 Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic will surely be a handful of GTHL teams who have stood high above their competition thus far this season. However, a slew of other clubs from throughout Ontario and the U.S. will undoubtedly pose a significant challenge to the GTHL’s best, as a wealth of clubs from the ETA, SCTA, Alliance, GNML, and T1EHL have rounded into form of late and are hitting their respective strides.
Related: 2019 OHL Draft and OHL Cup Rankings
In short, the Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic seems to be up for grabs. Although the high-powered and remarkably deep Don Mills Flyers stand as the clear favourite to claim the championship, their mediocre play of late will surely motivate opposing teams to bring their best on a game-by-game basis in a quest for success.
With this being said, let’s meet five of this year’s top challengers for the championship before listing a crop of honourable mentions who could very well surprise this holiday season.
The Top Five Challengers
Here are, in our opinion, the five teams with the best chance to claim the championship at this year’s Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic. Although Don Mills stands as the favourite — as mentioned above — there is a distinct group of secondary challengers that have emerged of late who hold a chance of knocking-off the Flyers.
Here are the full groupings for the tournament:
1. Don Mills Flyers (GTHL)
The Don Mills Flyers have lost just one game this season, falling to Detroit Compuware in the championship game of the Whitby International Silver Stick Tournament. Incredibly deep and impressively skilled, the Flyers can score at-will and feature a blue line capable of contributing at both ends of the ice. Champion of the Titans Early Bird and Wendy Dufton Memorial Tournaments, the Flyers are unquestionably the team to beat at the Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic owing to their consistent drive.
If any challenger hopes to defeat Don Mills, they will need to penetrate the team’s solid defence-core and fire plenty of shots on goal. As a team who generates a great deal of their offence off of the rush, opponents will need to hem the Flyers in their own zone if they hope to generate offence while limiting the Flyers’ potent attacking game.
2. Toronto Red Wings (GTHL)
The Toronto Red Wings are a pleasant surprise within the GTHL this season, as the team has cast aside a slow start and become one of minor midget hockey’s top clubs. Much like the Flyers, the Red Wings feature exceptional depth throughout their lineup and play with not only consistency but maturity. Rarely pinned down by short-handed play, the Red Wings excel at even-strength and feature an improving penalty kill defined by its possession and zone time.
Two specific players to watch on the Red Wings during the Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic are Adam Fantilli and goaltender Joshua Rosenzweig. Although Francesco Pinelli has been simply stellar this season, the contributions of Fantilli and Rosenzweig could push the Red Wings to a championship. In Fantilli, the Red Wings boast a game-breaking player whose two-way game is simply remarkable considering his birth late in December of 2004, while Rosenzweig’s consistency between the pipes affords the Red Wings with an opportunity to win each and every game.
3. Whitby Wildcats (ETA)
The Whitby Wildcats have absolutely dominated the ETA so far this season, skating to a 24-1-3 record ahead of the Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic. What’s more is that the Wildcats’ tournament play has been steadily improving, as Whitby claimed their place in the semi-finals of the Whitby Silver Stick Tournament before their defeat to Don Mills.
What makes the Wildcats a legitimate contender in the Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic is the team’s combination of size, speed, and skill. Led by the devastating line of Brenden Sirizzotti, Thomas Johnston, and Ryan Winterton — a trio which has combined for an incomprehensible 187 points in 28 ETA games played — the Wildcats are a punishing team who fails to relent in all three zones of the ice. Highly energetic in their play and as determined as they come, the Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic could be the Wildcats’ time to establish themselves as a legitimate contender.
4. Toronto Marlboros (GTHL)
As the host team, the Toronto Marlboros are a challenger who must not be taken lightly. Although they may not feature the best team in terms of overall skill set to compete in their tournament, the Marlboros are a ferocious force who come to play on a nightly basis and will overwhelm opponents owing to their incomparable work-ethic and intimidating physicality.
While the likes of Danil Zhilkin, Wyatt Johnston, and Marc Boudreau lead the way offensively, expect the contributions of defencemen Ethan Del Mastro, Artem Guryev, and Logan Mailloux to push the pace for the Marlies from the blue line. All of impressive size, skill, and skating ability, the play of these three defencemen in particular will not only provide the Marlies with an offensive boost from the blue line but help to dismantle any and all attacking plays devised by their opposition. Featuring Ben West in-goal, the Marlies will prove to be a stern test for all of their opponents throughout the tournament, and especially to those who fail to respect the team’s structure, physicality and potency.
5. Chicago Mission (HPHL)
The Chicago Mission cannot be taken lightly this season, as evidenced by their appearance in the quarter-finals of both the Wendy Dufton Memorial and Whitby Silver Stick Tournaments. A finalist at the Toronto Titans Early Bird Tournament to kickstart their campaign to boot, the Mission are proving to be a handful in tournament play who are not intimidated by their neighbours to the north by any means.
In fact, the Mission have been downright unstoppable thus far this season. In HPHL action, the Mission carry a sparkling 14-0-0-1 record and have allowed a mere 23 goals against in their 15 games played. Further, mix in the three sweet-16 finishes within international tournaments this campaign mentioned above, and the Mission quickly appear as a legitimate force to be reckoned with. If Jack Devine, Davis Burnside, and Jonah Copre can continue their torrent play, expect the Mission to push deep into this year’s Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic Tournament.
Ten Honourable Mentions
Here are ten teams with the skill and drive necessary to surprise at the Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic, listed in alphabetical order:
- Brantford 99ers (Alliance)
- Detroit Compuware (HPHL)
- Detroit Little Caesars (T1EHL)
- Guelph Jr. Gryphons (SCTA)
- Kitchener Jr. Rangers (Alliance)
- Mississauga Rebels (GTHL)
- Niagara North Stars (SCTA)
- North Central Predators (ETA)
- Toronto Nationals (GTHL)
- Waterloo Wolves (Alliance)