Port Huron, Mich. -- The most anticipated tournament of the year lived up to expectations, and then some, as 32 of the top bantam teams from the United States and Canada did battle with a coveted Silver Stick championship on the line in Port Huron. Despite the absense of the top team in the age group, the Mississauga Rebels, the field featured no shortage of quality teams laced with high-end talent.
Little Caesars takes home top honours
Despite a tie against the same pesky Ajax/Pickering squad that dealt them a costly loss in the Vaughan Kings Classic, Little Caesars still emerged from their group in top spot with seven of a possible eight points in round robin play. The HPHL's top team then proceeded to run the gauntlet in the playoff round with victories over the Toronto Marlboros, New Jersey Colonials, and league-rival Chicago Mission en route to the championship.
Leading the way was '02 underager Antonio Stranges who leads the team in scoring in league play. Despite lacking great size for the age group, Stranges is a high-end creator who is a bit of a puck wizard when it's on his stick. His consistent play throughout saw him not only receive a deserving nod on the tournament all-star team, but ultimately saw him take home MVP honours for his key play throughout the tournament.
Marlboros hand Shattuck-St. Mary's their first loss
A remarkable run of undefeated play by Shattuck-St. Mary's was bound to come to an end eventually, but even with the minor hockey name brand that is the Toronto Marlboros, the loss was one of the biggest storylines of the weekend. It's been nothing short of a see-saw season for the Marlboros in GTHL league play, where they currently sit a disappointing seventh place, so this victory should hopefully serve as a catalyst with the stretch drive in front of them.
The 3-0 win was accentuated by forward Grant Fontyn who delivered one of the more memorable performances of the weekend in a pair of Saturday games (the latter of two a loss against Little Caesars). The rugged winger was an absolute physical force and delivered several checks that notably changed the dynamic and momentum of the game. He also chipped in with a key goal and showed a level of his game that had previously been missing.
Colonials' run comes up short
The AYHL's top team nearly made it all the way despite lacking the same quality of depth on their roster that most other teams in attendance possessed. How do they do it? Well, you could make a very legitimate argument that the Colonials have not only the top defenseman playing in bantam with Marshall Warren, but also the top forward in John Farinacci and the top '02 in Alex Gaffney.
After putting together some of the strongest offensive outbursts throughout the round robin, the Colonials were eventually dispatched by Little Caesars in a fairly convincing 6-3 semi-final game that saw their tournament draw to a close a game short of the final.
Tournament All-Star team announced
At the conclusion of the tournament, the Silver Stick announced their All-Star team for the weekend:
LC Aidan Prueter (London Jr. Knights) - Dynamic center who blends high-end skill and skating ability with tenacity and competitiveness that you rarely see from players with his type of skill-set
LW Antonio Stranges (Little Caesars) - Doesn't have elite physical tools but his mind for the game and confidence when in possession with the puck make him the team's most consistent offensive threat, and the type of player who can find the scoresheet against any opponent
LC Luke Toporowski (Chicago Mission) - WHL-eligible player is expected to be a high selection in this year's WHL Bantam Draft. Attacks the net with confidence and has finishing ability that puts him in line with many of the elite players from the OHL territory
LD Hunter Weiss (Chicago Mission) - Towering defenseman already has pro size and overwhelming strength for the age group. Projects as a shutdown-style defenseman who makes reasonably good decisions with the puck
LD Dom Fensore (Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers) - Two-way defenseman will be eligible for the QMJHL Draft in 2017 as part of the league's draft territory. Should receive no shortage of NCAA interest as his development progresses
Mitchell Weeks (Barrie Jr. Colts) - Put forth a compelling case as to why he could be one the top goaltenders in the OMHA's ETA league at this point.