“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
“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
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
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
“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