Niagara IceDogs draft pick Landon Cato didn't have to wait until the opening of training camp for his first taste of what it will take to play in the Ontario Hockey League.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound defenceman, who was selected in third round 46th overall, was among five Niagara draft picks competing in the OHL Cup tournament.
Cato thought the eight-team competition that wrapped up Sunday in Kitchener helped his development as a player eager to take his game to the next level.
"The speed of the game was really high. The competition was high," the 16-year-old said. "It was a lot different than regular league games."
Cato, Niagara's second pick in this year's draft behind fellow defenceman Isaac Enright, returned home to Toronto impressed with how the prospects were treated at the season-ending showcase.
"It was a real eye-opener. They had trainers and everything," he said. "They really catered to us.
"The boys were really into the games."
Cato signed a standard player agreement with the IceDogs after verbally committing to play at University of Massachusetts-Amherst on a hockey scholarship beginning with the 2021-22 season.
Cato, his parents and his hockey adviser had a "long talk" about his options after his name was called on draft day.
"We were looking for the best scenario for me," he said. "We think Niagara, for sure, is it, and we think Niagara is what is going to help me with my hockey career later on.
"I think this is the best place for me. Hands down, it's going to be the best opportunity that I have."
Another consideration tipping the scales in favour of the IceDogs is that Niagara will be in a rebuilding mode after going all in to win a Memorial Cup this year.
"I want to be a big part of Niagara's buildup," Cato said. "I really want to be a big part of that team, and a big part of the reason why is hopefully we can win it down the line."
The defenceman patterns his game after Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"He's an aggressive defenceman, but he doesn't shy away from the offensive zone. He likes to throw the body, and he has a big shot from the point."
Cato knows he needs to elevate his game to adjust to playing in the OHL.
"It's a lot more physical. Guys are a lot smarter, and they just know what to do with the puck," he said. "It makes it harder and easier at the same time."
"It's a bit harder because you have to be able to react and play at that pace, so use your brain to make the right plays. But it's a little bit easier because you're playing with better players. If you're in the right spot, you'll get the puck."
A total of 129 players selected in the draft represented their respective minor hockey associations at the four-day competition at Activa Sportsplex in Kitchener.
Fielding two teams apiece were the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) and the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, while Alliance, Hockey Eastern Ontario, Hockey Northwestern Ontario and the Northern Ontario Hockey Association (NOHA) were each represented by one all-star team.
Cato had two assists for Team GTHL Blue which went 4-0 to capture their consecutive OHL Gold Cup championship.
In the final, GTHL Blue rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to score a 5-4 victory over their organization's other representative, GTHL Red.
IceDogs draft picks Goaltender Josh Rosenzweig, sixth round, 119th overall; and defenceman Ethan Mistry, 10th round, 199th overall; played on GTHL Red.
Rosenzweig finished the tournament with a 1-2 record and one shutout compiling a 4.72 goals-against average and posting a .821 save percentage. Mistry was held scoreless in four games.
Also getting ice time in all of their team's four games at the Gold Cup was Enright, Niagara's top pick in the draft. The first rounder, selected 17th overall, played on an Eastern Ontario squad that went 2-2.
"I talked to him a couple of times (at the tournament)," Cato said of Enright, a fellow defenceman.
IceDogs prospect Stephen Pszeniczny, 15th round, 229th; collected two assists for Northern Ontario. Bradley Brunet, 13th round, 259th overall; also suited up for the NOHA, which finished 2-2.