By Josh Howald
Ben Scheel was projected to be an early pick in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection. The Barrie Colts actually contacted the Kincardine teenager and told him they were going to draft him.
Ben Scheel accepts his OFSAA gold medal in 2012 as a member of the KDSS boys hockey team. (Independent file photo/Howald)
But draft day came, and Scheel’s name was not called. Instead of giving up on his dreams, Scheel chased that much harder, and this week will find himself on the ice with the Ontario Hockey League’s defending champions, the London Knights.
“I guess I had my hopes up pretty high,” said Scheel of the 2012 OHL draft. “I was really looking forward to it, and not getting drafted was pretty tough. But it really doesn’t matter now. I try to look at it as a positive – I can go to any team I want.”
Scheel has turned doubters into believers, and has impressed enough hockey people to earn a spot with the Burlington Cougars of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL Tier II Junior A) for this season. Provided he doesn’t turn some more heads this week in London.
“(The Knights) are pretty strong, they have a lot of guys coming back,” said Scheel. “But you never know, I could have a really good camp, or they could just say go back to Burlington and we’ll keep an eye on you.”
Several longtime AAA teammates decided to leave the Grey-Bruce AAA Highlanders after being undrafted in their minor midget season. They returned to the Kincardine Minor Hockey Association, where they won an OMHA All-Ontario championship with the Kincardine Miller Insurance midgets. Scheel remained with the Highlanders, playing the highest level of hockey he still could.
“I think the extra year helped,” he said. “I talked to a few more teams. London is a team I talked with last season, now it’s starting to pay off.”
Scheel has played spring hockey with a Burlington team for several years now. This summer, that team went to Boston to play in the Chowder Cup, a huge tournament with top prospects from all over North America competing. His team included several OHL regulars, as well as other AAA players from Ontario and some Tier II Junior A players. He performed at a point-per-game clip in Boston. Shortly following that tournament, he decided to try out for the OJHL Burlington Cougars.
“I had a good camp, and ended up signing there in late July,” he said. “I tried out in Orangeville too, but Burlington definitely had the stronger team.”
He scored in his first OJHL exhibition game last week, an overtime loss to the Oakville Blades.
“It was a backhand wraparound, I was just able to tuck it in,” smiled the 17-year-old.
Scheel was thinking about going the scholastic route, testing scholarship waters in the NCAA. That remains an option for him, but he isn’t ready to turn down an offer from the major junior ranks in Canada either.
“Anything can happen,” he said. “I’m just going to take things as they come and see how it all plays out.”
Training camp with the Knights began yesterday (Tuesday) with fitness testing. Today and tomorrow the Knights will hold intrasquad scrimmages, and begin to pare down the roster from there. Scheel should do just fine In the fitness tests – he has been training with Ryker Killins of the Stratford Cullitons, a Windsor Spitfires pick; 2013 first round pick Garrett McFadden, who will play for the Guelph Storm this season; and Garrett Meurs, property of the Colorado Avalanche, under the eye of Jeff Alcombrack, head coach of the Kincardine Bulldogs.
“We had a pretty good training schedule,” said Scheel. “We did four, sometimes five workouts a week. I learned a lot of stuff from those guys, and we had a real good time too. We had a lot of fun.”
If the Knights don’t card Scheel this week, he will attend Corpus Christi, a Catholic high school in Burlington, and billet with a family he knows from his time with the Burlington spring hockey team.
The Cougars were 25-27-1-2 last season, good for third place in the OJHL’s South Western Conference’s West Division. With a strong returning core and bumper crop of rookies, including Scheel, they should contend for their division lead. The Cougars open the regular season on the road Sept. 7 in Pickering, with their home opener the following night against Hamilton.