BERWICK, NS - The Valley Wildcats hosted the annual Maritime Hockey League Draft June 9, as clubs from around the 12-team league sought to add young talent from across Atlantic Canada.
One hundred and twenty names were called out at the draft as the junior clubs claimed the rights to midget-aged players.
The County Aces from St. Stephen, NB had the first three selections, picking Zachary Alcorn of the Saint John Vitos, Jack Morris from Cape Breton West, and Ethan Stuckless from Newfoundland first, second and third respectively.
The Grand Falls Rapids, recently relocated from Woodstock, NB, selected Yannick Bastarache from the Moncton Flyers fifth overall, the team’s first ever draft pick.
Valley made two appearances in the first round as the host junior A Wildcats picked sixth, selecting Enfield’s Liam Kidney from the Cole Harbour Wolfpack of the Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League. The Truro Bearcats picked seventh, drafting Damian Hartt from the Kohltech Valley Wildcats Major Midget team.
‘A good feeling’
The 16-year-old Kidney scored 38 points in 34 games last year with the Wolfpack. He was also drafted in the 11th round of the 2017 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Draft by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, and was called up to Sydney for a few games last season.
Despite being selected sixth overall, Kidney was the first player in attendance at the draft to receive his new jersey at the podium.
“I got the call from Valley and they said I should come down to the draft,” says Kidney. “It’s a good feeling getting drafted to Valley. I’m a hard-working, two-way, power forward. I never give up on battles, like the gritty stuff, going into the corner. I have some finish and I like to set some teammates up too.”
Wildcats general manager Nick Greenough says the club identified Kidney a while ago as one of the players it really wanted to draft.
“We weren’t sure if he was still going to be there, but we let him know to be down here, and if he was there, we were going to select him. He has an opportunity to make Cape Breton. Hopefully for him, that’s where he is next year, but if not, this is a great place for him to play and develop.”
In all, the Wildcats selected thirteen players at the draft, including five with local connections. Greenough says he’s ecstatic with all the players the team was able to select.
“We got some local guys… Brent Levy and Brady Burns. We got Colby Ramsey and Jonathan Pickrem. He’s from the city but played for our major midget program. We always want to make sure we get a few of these guys. There’s a couple of players we identified. We know they’ll be in midget next year, but when the future comes, they’ll be ready to play for us.”
Levy was also at the draft to receive his Wildcats jersey. The 16-year-old defenceman was one of two territorial picks for the Wildcats, and he says it’s a huge honour.
“I’ve been playing here for a while… bantam and midget last season, so to stay in the same organization, it’s nice,” says Levy.
The rear guard describes himself as a ‘defensive defenceman.’
“I don’t get too many points, just try to shut down the other team. I have a good stick, try to keep a good gap, and make a good breakout pass to get going the other way.”
Valley’s other territorial pick was Port Williams’ Brady Burns, who scored 39 points in 26 games for the major midget Wildcats last season. Burns was recently selected in the second round of the QMJHL draft by the Saint John Sea Dogs, but Greenough says he was still worth selecting at the junior A level.
“At this draft, you always take a few flyers on a couple of guys, and we did that. You swing for the fences. If they come, they come. If they’re playing at a higher level, that’s the chances you take.”
Valley also drafted Membertou’s Sonny Kabatay in round five and Falmouth’s Bailey Peach in round seven. The 15-year-old Kabatay scored well over a point a game last season in major midget and was selected by the Halifax Mooseheads in the fifth round of the QMJHL draft. Peach spent last season in the QMJHL with the Sherbrooke Phoenix and played for Canada at the World Under 17 Challenge.
“Those are guys who, possibly as a 20-year-old, could play here,” says Greenough.
“And Bailey being a local product, we wanted to take a chance on him. Same with Sonny. He was drafted fairly high by the Mooseheads, so there’s a good chance he’ll be in a Mooseheads uniform, but if not, I think it’ll be a good fit for him here.”
The Wildcats selected Cole Harbour’s Matthew Power and Kinnon Williams from the Cape Breton Tradesmen in round three, goaltender Chad Arsenault of the Kensington Wild and Darren Waterman from the Cape Breton West Islanders in round four, Kensington’s Ethan Beaulieu in round five, and right winger Sam Grant from Cape Breton West in round six.
Valley major midget Wildcat Gregor Yoell was picked in round five by the Truro Bearcats.
Valley’s final picks were both from the major midget Wildcats, selecting goaltender Jonathan Pickrem in round seven and centre Colby Ramsey in round eight.
Greenough says it was a fun weekend.
“All the kids we talked to are excited to be here. We’re looking forward to getting the summer over and getting back on the ice. We were in a fortunate position with fourteen picks coming into the draft. We wheeled and dealed a little bit, moved some around for higher picks and differed some to next year. We got ourselves in a pretty good position moving forward.”
Also at the draft, Valley traded Adam Nolan to Miramichi to complete an earlier trade, and acquired defenceman Quinten Johnson as completion of a deal done last year with Pictou County. Greenough says Johnson, a 20-year-old defenceman from Yarmouth, will bring much needed experience to the Wildcats back line.
“He’s a safe defenceman, he’s a big body. He’s going to help us out in our defensive game, and he’s a good kid off the ice, so we’re looking forward to having him here. He was part of the Rehill deal. We’ve got a pretty young D core back there, and he’s excited to be here.”
‘Positive’ draft: president
MHL president Brian Whitehead says the entire draft weekend in Berwick was fantastic, with great Valley hospitality.
“We had some very positive meetings. There’s a few initiatives coming forward as we move the needle on making the experience better for players, and we had a good healthy discussion on a number of topics.”
Next year’s draft will be held in Edmundston, New Brunswick, hosted by the league champion Blizzard organization. The 2018-2019 MHL season begins in September.