It’s been quite the year for Phil Tomasino.
The 6-foot centreman was at the forefront of January’s trade deadline buzz when he was sent to the Oshawa Generals in a nine-pick trade from the Niagara IceDogs. It was his first time ever switching teams, having played in the Mississauga Rebels organization for seven years before his two and a half year stint with the IceDogs. A big transition, no doubt.
“I think everyone in Oshawa made it really easy for me,” he said of the trade. “A lot of credit to the Gens staff, all the coaches and managers, for making it easier for me. It was definitely a unique situation. I was always used to being with the same guys, same coaches, so it was a little difficult but overall it was a great fit for me for sure.”
He remembers nervously arriving in Windsor the night before he’d make an impressive five-point debut with his new team.
“I obviously had a pretty good first game, but more importantly we won that game,” he calls. “Didn’t really know the systems or anything quite yet, I just kind of went out there and tried to do my best and lucky enough, I had a pretty good team performance.”
He hardly slowed down from then on, earning 43 points over 23 contests to hit 100 points when the season came to its early ending. He finished out the shortened campaign as only one of four OHL players to reach that century marker.
But the Mississauga native admittedly isn’t much of a goal-setter when it comes to counting points. He has his sights set on another goal: earning a spot with the Nashville Predators.
Coming off that dominant third OHL season, the first round NHL Draft pick was invited to join the Predators’ Return to Play training camp last month, where he got a better understanding of how systems are executed at the pro level. He picked up on a lot of little details, he says, like how much more easily a player’s mistake can lead to a goal.
“The biggest thing is just seeing how hard they work and how hard they compete against each other. I’ve realized it’s a big step from juniors to pro in that sense,” said the Predators prospect. “But just to see how smart those guys are and how skilled and how fast and how big they are, it’s pretty awesome that I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to skate with them and learn from them, and it was a lot of fun.”
He lived with defenceman Ryan Ellis for the duration of his month-long stay in Nashville. A former OHL star and a fellow hometown guy from nearby Hamilton, the two made an instant connection. Ellis cooked meals for the two of them, they played Xbox in between their busy schedules, and Tomasino was offered a firsthand look at Ellis’ routines both on and off the ice.
“He’s definitely a guy I look up to and was fortunate enough to spend time with,” said Tomasino of the experience. “Just how good he is and how hard he works, it’s incredible.”
The biggest takeaway, he says, was in his eating habits.
“I wasn’t really a big avocado guy before I went down there, and every breakfast he had avocado, but I eventually started to like it and now I’ve had it with almost every breakfast back home. We made a few different meals I hadn’t had before, and they were all organic, all healthy,” he continued. “He taught me a lot but I think the avocado is probably the biggest thing. I have a lot of avocado now.”
A week after he arrived home from Nashville, Tomasino took part in Canada’s all-virtual National Junior Team Summer Development Camp as one of 17 OHL player invitees. Representing Team Canada on the world juniors stage is another goal he’s striving toward, and of course, another experience Ellis is familiar with.
“Obviously he has a pretty good understanding of it,” he said of Ellis, who has the unique experience of having played at the World Juniors on three occasions; claiming gold with Team Canada in 2009 and silver the following two years.
“It’d be an awesome experience to be able to get the chance to play too, and I am looking forward to getting that chance.”
Having had the opportunity to learn from the seasoned NHLer, Tomasino is feeling confident about looking NHL-ready sooner than later. It’ll be tough, but he believes he’s ready.
“I believe I can play with those guys. It’s kind of cliché but when you say you need to get faster and stronger, that’s the biggest difference from juniors to the pro. Those guys are so strong with the puck and so strong in the boards. I’ve continued to work on my strength throughout this extended summer, and I think that’s the biggest thing for me. I think my overall game could get better for sure, but if I can continue to work on those I’ll have a chance.”
And should he return to Oshawa for his 19-year-old season, he’ll be striving for a chance at the Memorial Cup – another feat his potential future teammate Ellis knows a thing or two about, having won back-to-back Memorial Cup championships as a key member of the iconic 2009 and 2010 Windsor Spitfires.
“If we’re lucky enough to host it, that would be my only goal: to win a Memorial Cup for sure.”
Throughout the month of August, ontariohockeyleague.com will shine a summer spotlight on storylines from all 20 OHL clubs. See more from the OHL Summer Spotlight series.