Sahvan Khaira, Davis Koch (Edmonton Oilers) and Brad Morrison (Calgary Flames) all returned to the familiar confines of the South Okanagan Events Centre to showcase their skills to their respective NHL clubs.
Khaira, who plays in the Western Hockey League with the Swift Current Broncos, said being in the OHA helped him get ready for the pro style game.
“They treat you like professionals right from the start. You are getting into that lifestyle while you are still pretty young,” said Khaira, who was on a tryout with the Oilers, who drafted his older brother Jujhar.
It was an exciting and special opportunity for he and his family.
“It’s cool, I get to talk to him about it. I came in knowing what to expect,” said Sahvan.
Jujhar gave his brother very simple advice.
“Don’t get too nervous, was the biggest,” said Sahvan, who helped the OHA win a Canadian Sport School Hockey League Midget Prep championship in 2014. “Just have fun with it.”
Sahvan, a stay-at-home defenceman, said his debut in the Canucks Young Stars Classic was solid. A strong team performance in a 3-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers helped. Khaira protected his net, but also showed he isn’t afraid to jump up in the play. Sahvan, who put up a career high 17 points last season, came in wanting to make a name for himself. He said the big thing is getting noticed, especially when the Oilers have plenty of defenceman.
Adding to the enjoyment of the Young Stars Classic for Sahvan was playing with Koch, a former OHA teammate. Sahvan said that familiarity makes it easier. Koch said it was nice to be able to reconnect with friends.
“I think it’s just familiarity and catching up with people. It’s nice to get back on the ice with some of the guys.”
Coming off a season in which he produced 21 goals and 49 assists for 70 points in 72 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings, the 100 Mile House native wanted to show his playing making ability and sense for the game.
He saw action in two games, collecting three assists, which ranked him 10th among tournament scorers.
“I think I did pretty well. First period in last game was a little bit slow, trying to get my grounds,” said Koch, listed at 6-0, 165 pounds. “I think I have gone up from there.”
Getting the invite from the Oilers was huge for Koch, who said it’s a sign of his hard work paying off. Koch believes last season with the Oil Kings was about taking a big step forward and he wants to continue that in the coming season.
“It’s always a goal to go as far as I can. When I do get sent back, to bring as much as I can back to my junior team,” said Koch, who has 41 goals, 119 points in 184 WHL games, all with the Oil Kings.
Morrison saw action in two games, but didn’t hit the scoresheet.
“I felt pretty good. I felt like I kept the turnovers down to two or three,” said Morrison following his debut Sunday. “As the game went on I felt better. It kind of got easier. I got some confidence and made some plays and made some moves.”
Morrison, who was traded to the Vancouver Giants from the Prince George Cougars during the off-season, said he wanted to show the Flames his offensive skills. However, he said in tournaments like the Classic, it can be tough with teammates who are unfamiliar. Morrison played on a line with Adam Ruzicka and Matthew Phillips, a sixth round pick from 2016.
“They were great,” said Morrison, adding that Ruzicka was easy to play with partly because of his 6-4, 210 pound frame and Phillips is a great puckhandler.
Once Morrison’s experience with the Flames is finished, he’s looking forward to a fresh start with the Giants and having a great season.
In 260 career WHL games, Morrison has 85 goals and 187 points, for a .72 points per game average.
Cole Kehler, also an OHA grad, came with the Winnipeg Jets but did not see any action in the crease.
OHA vice-president Dixon Ward said it was good to have that representation in the tournament.
“It’s fun to watch these kids grow up and then get out there with an NHL jersey on,” said Ward. “It’s pretty exciting for them. For us it’s cool to see.”
Ward remembers Koch as a 13-year-old bantam, very small, skinny, but very talented. Sahvan came in as a 14-year-old, played two years at OHA. Ward described him as a “big boy,” who has worked very hard on his skating. Morrison, according to Ward was a highly dynamic player, originally drafted by the New York Rangers.
Other OHA alum were at NHL rookies camps across the country and the U.S. Summerland’s Deven Sideroff (2012-14) and Tyler Soy with the Anaheim Ducks, recent NHL draft pick Michael Rasmussen (2013-15) with the Detroit Red Wings, Scott Walford (2012-15) at Montreal Canadiens camp, Ryan Gropp (2011-12) with the New York Rangers, Jordan Holleett (2013-15) with the Ottawa Senators camp, Jordy Bellerive (2014-15) with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jonathan Smart (2013-15) Toronto Maple Leafs and Beck Malenstyn (2011-14) Washington Capitals.