Last year's Toronto Marlies midget team featured a core group of stars, several of which chose to pursue the NCAA route, and today rate as the top of the NCAA market. Of course, the player who will become its most famous alum is John Tavares, the 15 year old for whom the OHL changed its draft age rules. He is today in the OHL on his way toward becoming the next Sidney Crosby. Leading that team in scoring was Sam Gagner, who since has moved down the USHL to play with the Sioux City Musketeers. He has broken into the league's top 10 in scoring - a testament to his skills as a 16 year old in the veteran league. Recently, his father told the Wisconsin State Journal that he currently favors the University of Wisconsin, although Minnesota, Boston College, Boston University, and Michigan remain on his radar.
The other winger on the team with NHL bloodlines, Justin Vaive, now plays for the US National Development Program. Although he also may pursue the NCAA route, he was drafted by the Sudbury Wolves in last summer's OHL draft. For those who may not know, the Wolves are coached by Mike Foligno, who teamed with Vaive's father with the Buffalo Sabres in the mid-80s, and who enticed his own son (Nick) to jump from the US National Program in favor of the OHL.
On the blueline, the Marlies were led Brendan Smith, who was mentioned in the October 18th entry. Teams have lined up to speak with Smith at St.Mike's, and it is reported that Wisconsin, BU, Miami-Ohio and Michigan are at the forefront of that bidding. He, like Gagner and Tavares, were named last week to the Ontario Under-17 team, representing the top talent from the province.
Hidden somewhat behind Brendan Smith's shadow is Cody Goloubef who stepped out of that shadow in a big way by also being named to the Ontario Under 17 team. He is being recruited by Maine, New Hampshire, Boston University, Ohio State, Miami of Ohio, Cornell and Notre Dame
Speaking of the Milton Icehawks, they have seen both ends of adversity during this season. On the positive, the team is a juggernaut, chugging along at a 26-1-1 clip. Matt Price committed to Boston College late last season, and Jason Fortino committed to RPI back in October. Recent addition Jason Bergeron from the Brampton Capitals has a deal lined up with U.Mass-Lowell. Uncommitted forward Matt Read has attracted serious NCAA interest from schools such as Maine, New Hampshire, St. Lawrence, Niagara, Canisius & Massachussetts, and Chase Langeraap and Kevin Morrison also merit attention. Rearguard Jeff Caister also has parlayed his strong final season into scholarship offers. Fellow rearguard Ryan Bernardi recently landed a scholarship with Wayne State. Goalie Zach Kleinman also has drawn interest from NCAA programs such as Northeastern.
A black cloud hangs over the team, however, in the wake of a challenge by the rival Streetsville Derby team over the compensation Milton paid for two former OHL players, Luke Dubbin (formerly of Western Michigan) and Dan Falbo. The investigation into those charges resulted in Milton being fined $12,000, and having coach George Dupont suspended for the balance of the season. Milton owner Mario Forgione has threatened to sue the OHA because of the sanction. The "paying" of players at the amateur level -- amounts paid in excess of reasonable expenses -- is something often whispered about, but rarely can it be proven. The NCAA has declared the Major Junior Leagues to be professional leagues because of similar stipends paid to its players, with the assumption being that the Amateur Junior A leagues were different. Whether that distinction is more than fiction is open to debate, but it serves the NCAA.
Notes: Another alum of the Toronto Midget league (this time, from the Red Wing program), Louie Caporusso, who played for the Toronto Red Wings midget team last season, also made his college choice last week. He had narrowed his college choice down to UNH and Michigan, and ultimately chose to follow the path to Michigan, which has been travelled by his neighborhood (Woodbridge, Ont) friends Mike Cammalari and Andrew Cogliano.