2021 u18wc mctavish othmann feature

Taking stock overseas

Mason McTavish and Brennan Othmann showcased their draft potential and earned professional experience during a European loan with Swiss side EHC Olten

Jamie Umbach
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April 30, 2021
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“Who knows what would’ve happened if I didn’t play?” says Mason McTavish.

It’s a question all too common in the thoughts of draft-eligible prospects across Canada during a tumultuous 2020-21 season, and it’s one both McTavish and his fellow National Men’s Under-18 Team forward Brennan Othmann could ask themselves after the hours, days and weeks they spent without hockey wondering when and where their next shifts would come.

They’re accustomed to the new norm – the paperwork, quarantines and temperature checks – and one another’s company after the postponement and eventual cancellation of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season led to an overseas loan for the pair of prospects with Swiss League side EHC Olten to gather valuable pro experience before the 2021 NHL Draft.

“It’s a long season over there for sure with COVID and all the protocols, so he and I are kind of used to all this stuff,” Othmann says.

McTavish and Othmann are two of the seven players on Canada’s roster at the 2021 IIHF U18 World Championship who landed extra experience training and competing with European clubs this season in the absence of Major Junior hockey, joining Connor Bedard (HV71/Sweden), Brandt Clarke (HC Nove Zamky/Slovakia), Brett Harrison (Koovee Tampere/Finland), Francesco Pinelli (HDD Jesenice/Slovenia) and Chase Stillman (Esbjerg Energy/Denmark).

With the status of the OHL looming large in the months when COVID-19 had the hockey world on hold, the circumstances of finding a team, sorting accommodations and approving paperwork to travel overseas to play during a global pandemic made for a constantly-evolving and fluid situation.

“Peterborough wanted their players to play, so they agreed to a loan but it was a lot of work to get it done,” says McTavish, who potted 29 goals and 42 points in 59 games for the Petes during his rookie season. “I had to get my work visa sorted and wait until I was 18. There was a lot of work behind the scenes, but once I was settled in everything was great.”

The forwards, who share the same agent, had always planned for it to be a package deal sharing a team, accommodations and each other's company in a new environment.

“We knew each other before, and it’s a lot easier going into a new situation with a guy you know who speaks the same language and is going through the same thing,” McTavish adds.

Othmann experienced less hurdles to finally arrive in Olten, a small city approximately 30 minutes by train from Basel and Zurich in the north of Switzerland, with a two-month head start on his European stint over McTavish.

The Flint Firebirds forward, known for his excellent release and versatility as a playmaker and shooter, didn’t quite know what to expect other than his opportunity to adopt a professional mindset for a few months and earn extra reps in his draft year.

“I just went over there to develop and make my game better,” Othmann says. “I don’t think I was going over there to impress anyone or put up crazy numbers. I just mainly focused on developing my game like a professional hockey player. It was great hockey.”

Othmann found confidence in his defensive game carried himself well offensively against senior opposition, adding eight goals and 18 points in 34 regular-season games while gaining valuable big-game experience to take back to the OHL and U18 worlds in a four-game sweep of HC Sierre in the first round of the Swiss League playoffs.

“I’d never even played in an OHL playoff before,” Othmann says. “Now I have that first-round professional experience under my belt, so it was exciting to play in.”

After waiting out the approval process and shaking out the legs in his first few games with Olten after a long layoff from action, McTavish began making use his 6-foot-2, 207-pound frame more effectively as an 18-year-old against older competition to tally 11 goals and 18 points in 17 contests.

“My first couple games, it took me a little bit time to adjust to getting back to playing again,” he says. “I hadn’t played in about nine months, so I got my feet under me and started playing better. I was getting my game skills back.”

The two became ingrained in their new setup and made the difficult decision in late March to return to North America and begin the intake process for the 2021 U18 World Championship as Olten advanced to the Swiss League semifinals.

“Leaving during the playoffs is something you’d never think about doing,” McTavish says. “I got the call from the U18s that they wanted to have me there, which made it a little bit easier to do.”

It was a hard but necessary choice for the Canadians to make during their draft years. “They gave me an opportunity that nobody else could,” McTavish adds. “It’s tough to leave, but I think it was the right decision.”

Their extended European stay is one Othmann hopes he can reap the rewards from with a positive showing at the tournament that’ll help translate into an NHL career and a higher draft stock when it comes time for the Pickering, Ont., product to hear his name called this summer.

“I went over to Switzerland to develop, so this is the time when I should step it up and showcase myself,” he says.

Both players, however, know they’re one of the lucky ones.

For every OHL player, draft-eligible or not, who was able to head overseas for some much-needed game time, there were dozens back home who were left without the stage to showcase their ability during a season that’s fallen to the wayside.

“It was sad to see not many players could do it,” Othmann says. “Some guys in the OHL haven’t played during their draft year, so it’s upsetting. Guys had worked so hard for that and I was one of the lucky ones who were fortunate to play, but I feel bad for those guys who couldn’t showcase themselves.”

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
514-895-9706
[email protected]

 

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
[email protected]

 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
[email protected]

 

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