The annual Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic is always a tournament to highlight on your calendar - if for nothing more than to remember that marathons in hockey, in the form of a five-day tournament, do happen. The 39-team Major Bantam field offered no shortage of storylines, and in the end, it was the Mississauga Reps standing atop the heap as deserving champions. We'll highlight a few of the interesting storylines that came from the tournament and will no doubt factor into the Port Huron Silver Stick which runs from January 7-10.
Reps make a statement
While there is no shortage of parity in the GTHL this season - and the province for that matter - it has always shaped up as a two-horse race at the top between the Mississauga Reps and their city-name rivals, the Mississauga Rebels. Sitting 1-2 in the GTHL and putting together competitive showings in every tournament to date, the Reps got the upper hand at the Holiday Classic as they not only went on to take home the title, but also quashed the trophy dreams for the Rebels by knocking them out of the semi-finals with a thrilling 6-5 win.
Led by LC Jamieson Rees, who is finding a way to elevate his game to a level almost nobody in the age group can match, the Reps have found a winning formula with a strong team-game on defense and solid goaltending from Ryan Dugas. The Reps are primed to continue their recent surge in the Port Huron Silver Stick and should be the favourites to come out of Pool E in first place, although their road will face a big-time test early as they open up the tournament against the New Jersey Colonials.
Strong showing from the Alliance
The Alliance is very much a top-heavy league in the '01 age group but the top of the heap continues to show they're more than capable of punching at or above their weight. The Cambridge Hawks and Waterloo Wolves represented the loop especially well as they would eventually face-off in an Alliance showdown in the semi-finals, a game which would see Cambridge advance on a 2-0 victory before falling on the same score-line in the finals against the Reps.
Coming off a tournament championship at the Vaughan Kings Classic, the London Jr. Knights continued their strong play as well as they made it through to the quarter-finals before being knocked out in a 3-0 loss to the Mississauga Rebels. The league has no shortage of dynamic talent with forwards Ryan Campbell and Nathan Yeck (Cambridge); Aidan Preuter and Ryan Suzuki (London); and Keean Washurak (Waterloo) all poised to be very high OHL draft picks in 2017.
Ajax/Pickering represents the ETA well
Despite a large drawing zone, Ajax/Pickering historically struggles to compete at a high level in the 'AAA' circuit. That's not the case in the '01 age group as despite losing several players to the GTHL - as per usual - the Raiders continue to be a team that is more than capable of playing with any team they come across. That was on full display at the Holiday Classic as the Raiders made a huge splash by knocking out the host Marlboros in the playoff round before falling in a tight game against Waterloo in the quarter-finals. With two very capable scoring lines and a solid defensive group, the Raiders are a team that are positioning themselves quite well for a lengthy run in the ETA playoffs as anything less would surely be a disappointment.
Toronto Titans continue to find their form
After a disastrous start to the GTHL season, the Titans continued their trend of rising to the occasion in tournaments and have found some consistency due in large part to a resurgence in league play. Currently occupying the 8th and final playoff spot in the GTHL, the Titans are a team that has the talent but most of the time leaves a lot to be desired in terms of converting that into favourable results.
With another very strong tournament showing behind them, the Titans could be back on track for a very strong 2016. Their Holiday Classic was highlighted by a convincing 5-1 win over the OEMHL's top team, the Eastern Ontario Wild, followed by an impressive 2-1 win over city rivals, the Jr. Canadiens. The Titans were eventually dispatched 4-3 by Cambridge in the quarter-final round but there's definitely a lot to like about where this team is trending. They'll face another stiff test at the Silver Stick where they are in one of the tougher groups in a pairing that includes the Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers and Barrie Colts.