There was something special about that under-16 Don Mills Flyers team in 2018-19.
Three of the top four picks in the OHL draft that year came from the Flyers, with 14 total picks coming from the organization. Including pick No. 74 - Roy Pejcinovski. Roy was tragically killed in 2018 – as was his mother, Krissy, and sister Vana when Krissy's boyfriend murdered them in their home. The news made national headlines across Canada and a group of young teenagers was forced to move on from a horrible tragedy of a beloved friend.
Nobody would have blamed them if they took a step back from their usual dominant ways. No young kid should ever have to go through what they did. But they didn't. Instead, they honored their teammate in the most incredible way, posting one of the greatest records ever seen by a youth hockey team – 77 wins, six ties and just a single overtime loss – and winning the prestigious OHL Cup championship.
Shane Wright and Brennan Othmann were two of the biggest catalysts of that lineup. Together, the pair combined for 296 points in 72 games, with defenseman and 2021 top prospect Brandt Clarke sitting third with 113 points. Wright ended up going first overall to Kingston after being granted exceptional status as a 2004-born forward playing against 2003-born competition. Othmann was chosen one pick later by Flint.
For the first time since their graduation from the GTHL, Wright and Othmann are back together, this time representing their country at the Under-18 World Hockey Championship in Texas. Canada is viewed as a favorite to win gold - something that often isn't the case due to many top players playing in the CHL playoffs. Despite not having QMJHLers at their disposal, the top OHL and WHL players - mixed in with some USHL and Canadian Jr. A talent – Canada has Wright – the top prospect for the 2022 draft – and Connor Bedard – the best from 2023 - at their disposal.
One of the biggest draws, though, will be the reuniting of Don Mills' top two sharpshooters, Wright and Othmann. There is no guarantee that the pair will line up together in Texas, but past experience suggests that's a mighty fine idea.
"In the past, we've had a lot of chemistry," Wright said. "So to be able to do that here with Canada at the world championships will be really fun. We both enjoy playing together a lot."
That chemistry dates back to minor bantam, about two years prior to their OHL draft year. Both players were new to the program at the time and didn't know anyone else. Othmann said the duo quickly connected and became good friends.
"Not many people know him that well off the ice, but he's a great guy," Othmann said. "He wants to be the next big thing in the NHL. And I think that he's got what it takes."
"He's a he's a funny guy," Wright said about Othmann "He's a great guy to spend a lot of time with. I'm lucky to call a good friend.
Off the ice, Wright and Othmann enjoy playing golf – both in real life and virtually. Wright says Othmann is better in real life than in PGA Tour 2k21 ("Me, for sure. Definitely not Shane," Othmann said about Wright's controller skills), but on the greens, it's all Wright.
Their friendship made playing together easier, as their on-ice chemistry clicked at an early age. That's why they produced so many points with the now-famous 2003-age group Flyers team that won GTHL titles year after year, but really set the tone for the strong OHL draft class later on. Prior to the draft, 20 of the best teams in the area – mainly Ontario, but with American invitational teams thrown in, too. The Flyers were favorites heading in, and in a scene not seen since Connor McDavid's OHL draft year, the stands were completely full for every Flyers game. You just had to be there.
And the Flyers didn't disappoint, defeating the Toronto Red Wings in a spectacular overtime game.
"It was definitely really surreal. We had an unbelievable season," said Othmann, a 2021 draft prospect that spent this past season in Switzerland. "Losing one game all year is something special and we had such a great team and a great group of guys.
"That loss that we had, it was something very tragic, but it also brought us closer together. That's what made us want to win the OHL Cup more than I think everyone else wanted to win. It pushed us to win that for him and for his family."
It only made sense that Don Mills' big three – Clarke, Wright and Othmann – would contribute to the goal that gave the Flyers the overtime win over the Red Wings. Clarke got the puck down to Wright on the rush, who found Othmann on the wing. Othmann made no mistake on the one-timer, beating goaltender Josh Rosenzweig to win the game.
"I remember Clarkie had the puck and he flipped it up to me," Wright said. "I saw that Oht was to my left. I just kind of made the pass and he did the rest."
"Whenever that gets brought up, I think about how that play happened and sometimes go back and watch it to restore a good memory," Othmann added.
That victory was more than just another W in the column. It wasn't just another trophy in a year full of tournaments and GTHL accomplishments. It was the final time the group would play together – and they did it all for Roy. This group forced into a tough situation having to move on from the loss of a dear friend, the backbone of the roster. But the young kids did it, and they honored Roy in the best way they possibly could.
"Right after (the attack) happened, we all chose to go on the ice together and practice," Wright said. "I think that was a really big thing, helping us to get through it and be able to play the game."
It's a bond no kids ever want to go through, but one shared by Clarke and USA defenseman Roman Schmidt. Even though they all went their separate ways and prepare for their respective NHL drafts, they know, it's something that's special to everyone involved.
As Canada enters the U-18 World Championship as one of the gold medal favorites, Wright and Othmann will look to find the spark again that made their run so special, and add another piece of hardware to their collection. But given the unique situation of having the year impacted by COVID-19, they're looking forward to just one simple thing.
"I'm excited just be able to play hockey again," said Wright, who hasn't been in a competitive game since March 8, 2020 – 414 days prior to Canada's first game in Texas.
When dynamic duos split up and play for different teams, you never know when you're going to see them play together again. So if you've never seen them play before, the U-18 World Championship is a great chance to do so. You'll be watching two prospects ready to show why they're one of the greatest pairs to come out of the Ontario minor hockey scene.
And, more importantly, a special bond that will last forever.