An unprecedented six members of the U16AAA Huron-Perth Lakers were selected during the 2023 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) draft on April 21st - 22nd.
An unprecedented six members of the U16AAA Huron-Perth Lakers saw or heard their name called this past weekend in the 2023 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) draft.
And to a man, all said other teammates could have easily joined them as they collectively take the next step to fulfilling their dream of playing professional hockey.
The Lakers’ captain Carson Harmer, who lives south of Mitchell, was the first to be chosen as the Saginaw Spirit took the 5’9” center 44th overall, or in the third round.
It was a memorable 24-hour period for the Grade 10 student of Mitchell District high school (MDHS), as Harmer was chosen by teammates as the player of the game in his debut with the Stratford Warriors of the GOJHL in their Sutherland Cup round-robin win over Leamington April 20. The same two clubs will square off in a best-of-seven championship series, with Harmer, 16, also likely slated to play a role in the final.
The first three rounds took place the next night.
“All my family was just sitting around in the living room watching the draft and my dad’s phone just started blowing up,” he recalled. “The TV was delayed, obviously. I knew prior to the draft that Saginaw would maybe draft me and when I saw that they had the next pick, I figured I was going then.
“When my name was called it went crazy in the Harmer household and it was an unreal experience. It’s something I wish I could relive 100 times,” he continued. “It was awesome.”
The next Laker chosen was Teague Vader, of Gowanstown, who went in the fifth round, 92nd overall, to Barrie. Older brother Tate was chosen last year by Sault Ste. Marie, where he played four games, but most of his time this past season was with Listowel of the GOJHL.
The 5’11” defenceman, a Grade 10 student of Listowel District secondary school, Vader doesn’t turn 16 until August.
“I actually didn’t think I’d go as high as I did,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting it. My older brother yelled at me saying I’m going to Barrie.
“It was pretty cool. I’d always wanted to go to Barrie as they were one of the teams that I’d had interest in,” he added.
With the final pick of the fifth round, 102nd overall, the Ottawa 67’s picked 6’4” left winger Zach Houben. A Grade 10 student at St. Michael Catholic in Stratford, Houben lives just north of Sebringville.
Houben, 16, joked that he was the last to know he was picked as his phone was dying, so things were delayed as far as getting updates from the draft.
“My phone started blowing up, I looked and saw the next pick,” he said. “Ottawa definitely had some interest. I was hoping that one of those picks I’d go to them. It’s just a dream come true once I saw my name come up.”
Another towering forward, 6’2” center Jordan Visneskie, of Mitchell, was the next Laker to go in the 6th round, 110th overall, to Erie.
He said he was actually on the ice working on his game when he found out he was picked.
“My dad just put the phone up against the glass and showed me,” he said. “When I got back my phone was just blowing up so I knew.”
Visneskie, a Grade 10 student of MDHS who turns 16 in August, said Erie was one of the teams to show interest prior to the draft.
“That was probably one of my top teams I wanted to go to,” he said.
It wasn’t until the final pick of the 12th round that the next Laker was chosen, Stratford resident Aidan Hill, a 5’11” goaltender, 242nd overall by Ottawa. The Grade 10 student at St. Mike’s said he was “just sitting around and the picks were getting low” and was telling himself “don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen but sure enough it happened. Ottawa showed a lot of interest so I was happy that it happened. I still can’t believe it …. it’s nice.”
The final Laker to come off the board, out of 302 picks over 15 rounds, was Hayden Barch, a 16-year-old defenceman from Grand Bend. He was picked in the 13th round, 256th overall, also by Saginaw.
When he found out, Barch, a Grade 10 student of South Huron district secondary in Exeter, said he was in the car going to his brother’s game.
“Saginaw showed interest at the start of the season so my name was called while we were driving,” he said. “It was nuts. Crazy.”
His dad Krys Barch played in the National Hockey League (NHL) for Dallas, Florida and New Jersey but was drafted in 1998 by Washington.
The Lakers all had the same goal of being drafted to start the 2022-23 season and although some of their friends weren’t chosen in this draft, noted there are other avenues to further their fledgling careers such as the U18 draft and stressed they hoped their longtime Laker teammates and colleagues who were disappointed won’t get discouraged.
“It doesn’t really define you if you don’t get drafted,” Harmer said. “There’s the U18 draft next year and some of them could go in that for sure.”
“There’s kind of other routes to go for some of our buddies that kind of got snubbed,” added Vader, saying they no doubt will use it as extra motivation moving forward.
The majority of the draftees had been with the Lakers’ program for the last seven years, but all agreed it was a stepping stone to where they want to get to.
All are invited to their respective OHL rookie development camps, some as early as this weekend (April 28-30), and will continue to prepare for the season ahead in the usual manner.