New wave of Waterloo Wolves headed to OHL

By Mark Pare

“Seven years in the making.”

Players with the Waterloo Wolves minor midget program came up with that as a slogan, representing the long road travelled, leading up to last Saturday's OHL Priority Selection.

And for six players on the team, their destination was reached by hearing their name called by an Ontario Hockey League team.

“There's lots of team goals we set, but individually, this is a huge goal for players to get drafted to the OHL,” Wolves head coach Shawn Dietrich told, “Having six go is a huge accomplishment, both for the players and the program.”

It started in the fourth round, when winger Evan Klein was picked by Saginaw 75th overall.

“It's an amazing experience, once in a lifetime opportunity,” Klein said, “You don't get drafted (to the OHL) twice.”

“It's the start of a new era, it's awesome,” he added, mentioning with current COVID-19 restrictions, he and his family couldn't do much to celebrate, so they ended up ordering in a pizza and watched a movie later in the day.

Klein, an “aggressive, powerhouse forward who can shoot the puck well,” says this pack of Wolves were really close, even with five guys coming onto the team this past season.

“I don't know how to explain it, everyone was just perfect for each other,” he said.

Dietrich echoed that, saying the comradery was a huge attribute for this group.

“The closeness, the family, and all the guys have used 'brotherhood,'” he said, “The 18 guys and the staff in the room was a really close knit bunch.”

Owen Sound followed up the Spirit's selection of Klein by taking Wolves defenseman Cedricson Okitundu at pick 76.

Fellow defender Liam Eveleigh was picked in the sixth round (103rd overall) by Sarnia, followed by goaltender Colin McKenzie, who went to the Ottawa 67's in Round 8 (160th overall).

McKenzie says it was “a surreal feeling” to hear his name, adding he instantly celebrated with his mother and much like Klein, got some food and held their celebration at home.

He says the Wolves program as a whole treated players “like you're in the OHL,” the goaltender said, “The room, the resources, the coaching staff.”

McKenzie says he thinks of himself as an athletic goalie that “sees pucks well and has good awareness.”

He admits as a goalie, it's harder to crack an OHL roster, but is prepared to do the work necessary.

Moving into the ninth round, 179th overall, and centre Andy Reist was snagged by the London Knights.

“Not much to be said about London, they're a top class organization in the CHL,” Reist says, “Just an absolute honour to be selected by them.”

“I was with my family, it was a really special day and can't say thanks enough to them, and London for giving me a chance to make a name for myself.”

Reist has been with the Wolves program for several years, and had a long list of people to thank for his development, from former coaches to trainers.

He says the Knights are getting a “hard working, two-way centreman with the ability to score and create chances for my teammates.”

“I'm also not afraid to get to the dirty areas, and win puck battles with my grit,” Reist said, adding he's also conscious of work in the defensive zone.

“Blocking shots, supporting the break out.  Little things like that make me a pretty complete player, I think.”

The sixth and final Wolves player to hear his name was Lucas Carson.  He went in the 13th round (252nd overall) to the Guelph Storm.

Yes, six draftees is a large number, but really nothing new for the minor midget program Dietrich took over in 2009.  

On average, the program has made way for five to six OHL draftees a year, including the likes of Logan Stanley, Nate Schnarr, Keean Washkurak and Nathan Allensen, among many others.

Klein says Coach Dietrich was really organized, which helped a lot.

“He took a lot of time, and he really plays into the details, and helped us with the simple things like video and whatnot,” he said, “He really built us up to this point…it really prepared us up until the whole situation with the coronavirus, but nothing you can do about that.”

Dietrich says this group reached a new level this past season, adding the turning point came early on, a 6-3 loss to the Oshawa Jr. Generals at the Toronto Titans Prospect Tournament in early September.

“At that moment, a kind of switch went on when the team realized 'hey, we can take this to the next level,'” he said, “And you can see the excitement and the focus and dedication from that moment on.”

What followed was a dominant stretch that saw the Wolves lose twice in their next 24 games.

The team was consistently on the weekly ranking of top minor midget teams in the province, and qualified for the OHL Cup tournament, which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a real special group, and it's unfortunate how it did come to a halt, not just for us, but for everybody,” Dietrich says, “I know our guys were really focused to play in the OHL Cup, and all the excitement of getting there, and then it was obviously cancelled.”

“We had six guys drafted (into the OHL), which is awesome…but the 18 guys and staff was what made us successful, and in turn, brings on the individual success.”

“Just a great year for the guys, and a really special group.”

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