Andrew Perrott is right where he wants to be. The 19-year-old defenseman from the OHL's Owen Sound Attack is at the arena, surrounded by hockey players. In any other timeline that's not significant but this season, of course, has been no ordinary journey.
Due to the pandemic, the OHL did not have a season. It was the only of major junior's three circuits to miss the entire campaign, a symptom of an Ontario government that could not get on the same page as the league and spikes in case loads that doomed one final effort in the spring. While some of the OHL's players joined teams in Europe and a very select few helped Canada win gold at the world under-18s in Texas, the majority of the teens in the league could do nothing but stay at home, training for an uncertain future. This is where Perrott and a group of buddies came through.
This week, the PBHH Invitational Showcase kicks off in Erie, Pa., with more than 100 players, the majority from the OHL, suiting up for a tournament that was organized by their peers. Perrott, along with Ryan Beck, Brendan Hoffmann and Ryan Humphrey, put together the showcase and have since gotten help from the staff at the ERIEBANK Sports Park, volunteers, parents and fans of the OHL's Erie Otters. And all their hard work is about to pay off.
"I'm feeling amazing," Perrott said over the phone. "I'm actually at the rink right now watching guys pull up and check in. Seeing everyone's faces and seeing the boys again is so exciting. No words can describe it."
Once Perrott and his crew decided to put together the showcase, they began canvassing social media, contacting teammates, opponents and even players they didn't know. Once it gained traction, players and their agents began to reach out to Perrott, which naturally made things a lot easier.
In terms of talent, the boys have snagged some good names for their tourney. Logan Mailloux, Bryce Montgomery, Francesco Arcuri and Ty Voit are some of the top-end names, all of whom should expect to hear their names called at the 2021 NHL Draft. But the showcase also gives an opportunity for older, undrafted players to be seen. In an ordinary year, those players most certainly would have gotten long looks from NHL teams, signing at least some of them to contracts at either the NHL or AHL level.
Because the organizers want this tournament to be a springboard for the players, the game play is going to be full-bore; this ain't an NHL All-Star Game.
"It's real OHL games," Perrott said. "When I talked to people throughout the process, I made sure they knew this is three 20-minute periods, stop time, hitting, fighting – I want it to be playoff-style hockey. And I think when everyone sees how many scouts are in the stands, they'll realize how serious they should take it. One bad game can turn someone's opinion on you, so you want to put your best foot forward."
Speaking of scouts, there will be a lot of attention from that crucial demographic. Perrott said at least 23 NHL teams will have staffers at the event and from those I'm talking to, the showcase represents a serious scouting opportunity. One NHL exec I spoke to said they "owe it to the kids" to be there. As with his player search, Perrott started contacting scouts he knew personally and the word spread throughout the league.
Now the games are about to begin. For a group of teenagers who have largely been divorced from hockey culture for more than a calendar year, the Erie showcase is a godsend.
"Just talking to guys I know, it was just a roller coaster of emotions," Perrott said. "A lot of guys are coming up to me at check-in saying how excited they are to get back into this environment."
Some of the players have even been joking about bringing in junior hockey staples like rookie dance-offs or trips to the movies in order to fully replicate that OHL team experience. As it is, Perrott and some of the others got together beforehand and those interactions have him in a positive mood.
"Everyone has been so excited and the competitiveness has, for sure, ramped up," he said. "I was in Cleveland with some of the guys and we would play pickup basketball or golf or spikeball and it was getting competitive. I'm really excited to see these guys get fired up for the showcase and I hope everyone comes out of it with the best experience possible."
After way too long, these kids can finally say 'Game On.'