By Sam Laskaris
ERIE, PENNSYLVANIA – Owen Headrick’s decision to abandon his collegiate career midway through his sophomore season to return to the junior ranks paid off handsomely.
That’s because Headrick, a 19-year-old defenceman from the Garden River First Nation, helped the Erie Otters capture the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) championship.
Headrick joined the Otters in January, after spending a season and a half with the Michigan-based Lake Superior State Lakers, an NCAA Division 1 squad.
The Pennsylvania-based Otters won the OHL title this past Friday with a 4-3 overtime triumph against the visiting Mississauga Steelheads. With that victory Erie beat the Steelheads 4-1 in its best-of-seven championship series.
By winning the OHL crown, Headrick and his teammates earned a berth into the four-team Memorial Cup tournament, which begins this Friday in Windsor, Ont.
“We’re really happy about winning the OHL,” Headrick said. “But we’re not done yet.”
The Memorial Cup event, which continues until May 28, annually features the champions of the three Major Junior circuits that make up the Canadian Hockey League. Those leagues are the OHL, the Western Hockey League (WHL) and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
A host team also competes in the tournament. This year the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, who received an automatic entry, are serving as hosts.
Also participating will be the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Saint John Sea Dogs. The Thunderbirds, based in the state of Washington, captured the WHL crown while the New Brunswick-based Sea Dogs won the QMJHL title.
Headrick had opted to leave the Lakers in the hopes of playing more games in front of pro scouts as he is keen to one day make a living playing hockey. NCAA squads traditionally play about half the number of matches as OHL teams.
Plus he felt the Otters were a talent-rich club that was capable of winning its league this season.
“I knew we were a really deep team, with a lot of great players and a lot of older players,” he said. “I guess I couldn’t ask for it to be any better.”
Headrick appeared in 26 regular season contests with Erie and earned eight points, including four goals. He added four points, all assists, in the Otters’ 22 playoff matches.
After spending a season and a half in the U.S. collegiate ranks, Headrick admits he did go through an adjustment period upon arriving in the OHL.
“It took me a long time to adjust,” he said. “I feel really comfortable right now and I’m happy with the way I’ve been playing.”
After a solid freshman season with the Lakers a year ago there was some speculation Headrick could be possibly chosen in the 2016 National Hockey League’s Entry Draft. But he was not drafted.
He could conceivably be picked in next month’s NHL draft. Or a pro team could sign him as a free agent.
Headrick is keen to be given a chance to play in the pro ranks. And he’s hoping his stock will rise with some solid performances at the Memorial Cup tournament.
“It’s obviously one of the reasons why I came here, to play in front of all these people and all these scouts,” he said.
The Otters kick off their Memorial Cup action on Saturday versus the Sea Dogs. The opening face off is scheduled for 3 p.m.