Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley, SSA players selected in OHL draft

Monday, April 16, 2018 | 5:57 PM

Dane Dowiak and Aidan Campbell have become pretty good friends from playing together in the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite youth hockey program, and a week ago they had a dream come true within a couple hours of each other.

Dowiak, a sophomore forward at Pine-Richland, and Campbell, a sophomore goalie at Seneca Valley, were selected April 7 in the Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection Draft. Dowiak was chosen in the ninth round by the London Knights and Campbell went in the 12th round to the Erie Otters.

Will Laychur, a Florida native, who plays for Shady Side Academy's national prep hockey team was selected in the 14th round by Niagara.

Campbell and Dowiak, who are both 15, played together for five years before Dowiak moved up to play 16U this year.

It wasn't long after each one learned the other was selected before they got in contact.

“I'm happy for Aidan. He's a great goalie and a great friend of mine,” Dowiak said. “I saw he was picked on Twitter, and I texted him to say congratulations. He deserves it.”

“It's an awesome feeling to be able to play at a high level and go through that experience with someone you've known for a long time,” Campbell said.

Dowiak played against opponents that were a year older than him this season, but it didn't slow him down. At one point he led Tier 1 Midget Hockey League in goals, but a broken collarbone sidelined him for a lengthy period. He still finished with 19 goals, which tied for 12th in the league, and had 30 points in 28 games.

Dowiak's father, Dennis, said London has been interested for over a year. The Knights are one of the flagship organizations in the OHL, which is one of the three leagues under the Canadian Hockey League umbrella. The other two are the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League.

More than 150 former London Players have been drafted by NHL teams and some of its alumni include Patrick Kane, Olli Maatta, Corey Perry, Rick Nash and Brendan Shanahan. Max Domi and Mitch Marner are recent former Knights to play in the NHL.

“It's a great opportunity, and I'm pretty excited,” Dowiak said. “Obviously, the London Knights are a great organization. The history of players that they've put into the NHL is unbelievable. They develop talent and you always hear about how those guys are great hockey players, but they're also good people, too.”

As a freshman last year, Dowiak received a scholarship offer from Penn State and committed. Due to NCAA rules, if a player signs an OHL contract they are no longer eligible to play NCAA hockey. Dowiak will attend London's rookie camp this weekend, but is still weighing his options with the OHL news still fresh.

“Penn State is a great organization with what they've built over the last five years. They've become one of the top Division I programs in the NCAA,” Dowiak said. “This opportunity with the OHL is still new for me, and I'm still getting to know a little more about it.”

Campbell and Dowiak will likely be selected in the United States Hockey League draft in May. The USHL is the top junior league in the US. Those who play in the USHL do not lose their NCAA eligibility.

Campbell, who stands tall in the net at 6-foot-3, carried a .929 save percentage in 21 starts for Pens Elite 15 this season. Erie's best known alumnus is Connor McDavid. Alex Gritz, a Cranberry Township native, played for the Otters this year.

Erie being a short drive up Interstate 79 provides an added benefit for Campbell.

“It's an amazing organization that's had a lot of great players go through it,” Campbell said. “It's close to home, so my parents can come up and watch me play.”

Earlier this year, Campbell worked out for a couple days with the U.S. National Development Program in Plymouth, Mich. The USNDP plays a USHL schedule and has yet to make their additions for next year's team. Campbell will attend a rookie orientation with Erie this month, but like Dowiak has not made a decision on his junior career path.

“I'm trying to keep my options open,” Campbell said. “The OHL is a great league, but so is the USHL. I haven't made any choices on what path I want to pursue, but they're both great options.”

Campbell credited his goalie coach, Shane Clifford, along with his Pens Elite coaches with helping him develop. Clifford has a school at Alpha Ice Complex in Harmarville. His alums include Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson, a Whitehall native, and former Michigan State goalie and Butler native Jake Hildebrand.

Being selected by an OHL team was a big item on Campbell's list, but that list doesn't stop there. He is determined to have a big impact wherever he ends up playing.

“I always look at how I can improve myself and what's next,” Campbell said. “I was drafted, but there's something after that. I want to play in the OHL or the USHL and I want to be the best there. Being drafted in OHL is a wonderful achievement and not many players get to experience that. I just love hockey and want to keep playing hockey. If I can keep playing throughout the years and play at a high level that would be fantastic.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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