Elite talent Adam Fantilli puts family first in pursuit of his big-league dream

He could have remained in the GTHL, but his desire to be closer to his brother has taken Fantilli across the border.
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MISSISSAUGA, Ont. ÐÊToronto Jr. Canadiens forward Adam Fantilli (#91) during a game between the Hamilton Huskies and the Whitby Wildcats at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre Rink 4 on September 16, 2019 (Photo from Steven Ellis/The Hockey News)

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. ÐÊToronto Jr. Canadiens forward Adam Fantilli (#91) during a game between the Hamilton Huskies and the Whitby Wildcats at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre Rink 4 on September 16, 2019 (Photo from Steven Ellis/The Hockey News)

You can imagine Luca Fantilli’s surprise when he looked across the ice and saw his kid brother skating in the warmup for the other team. Adam Fantilli had made a major life and hockey decision, leaving the biggest and most prestigious youth hockey association in the world to be closer to his brother, and in one of their first games they were going nose-to-nose instead of being side-by-side.

First, the backstory, Reader’s Digest version. Adam Fantilli is the best young hockey player in Ontario. He doesn’t turn 15 until December, but he’s big and strong and skilled and is a shoo-in to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 OHL draft if he chooses to play major junior. Fantilli, a center, was all set to play minor midget hockey for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens juggernaut in the Greater Toronto League this season. That was until he visited his 16-year-old brother, Luca, at Kimball Union Academy, a prep school in New Hampshire. Adam realized how badly he missed his brother and decided to leave the GTHL to play with him at Kimball.

So it was that the Fantilli brothers found themselves on the same ice surface in October. The prep team at Kimball Union can’t start playing games until November, so most of them play in the New England Fall Prep League. The league has Under-19, Under-18 and Under-16 all-star teams, and shortly after Adam Fantilli arrived, he was placed on the Under-16 team. He was called up to the Under-18 team for a game it was playing against the Under-19 team just five minutes before the game. Luca, a defenseman with the Under-19 team, noticed his brother was playing for the Under-18s just before puck drop.

“That was one of the craziest games I’ve ever been a part of,” said Guiliano Fantilli, the boys’ father. “The game starts, and Adam thinks he has a lot to prove, and Luca sure as hell doesn’t want his little brother to show him up. The Under-19s won 6-5. Luca got three goals and an assist, and Adam got two goals and an assist, and he hit the post with 20 seconds to go, which would have tied it. It was really crazy.”

After that game, Adam was promoted to the Under-19 team for the rest of the season. He’s by far the youngest player on the Under-19 team, and Luca is the second youngest. Playing against players three and four years older, Adam had a goal and six points in his first nine games in the fall prep league. He was also playing on a line with Tomas Mazura, a sixth-round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers last June, and the two will play together once the season starts at Kimball Union.

Fantilli won’t get near the same number of games playing prep hockey this season as he would have playing minor midget in Toronto, but when everything is said and done, he’ll still be at about 60. Games are played on weekends, which means the players are on the ice and in the weight room every day during the week.

“Every day in practice, he’s out there playing against guys who are going to be playing in college next year or the year after,” said Kimball Union coach Tim Whitehead, who was also a longtime coach at the University of Maine. “We’re more like the NTDP type of model where we don’t sacrifice a workout just to win an extra game. Right away, you notice his skating, not just his speed, but his control on his edges, the strength in his stride. He’s able to get separation very quickly, in traffic and open ice. And he has a heck of a shot. He can score goals.”

With that kind of talent and a 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame, Adam Fantilli is elite among his peers. In the OHL Cup last spring, he played for the Toronto Red Wings, who lost the title game to the Don Mills Flyers. Even though Shayne Wright of the Flyers, who would later be granted exceptional status to play in the OHL as a 15-year-old, was named MVP, Fantilli was every bit as good in that game as Wright.

Fantilli will likely follow Wright’s footsteps as the top pick in the OHL in anticipation of his 2023 NHL draft. There has been talk of him following his brother and going the NCAA route, but with three years before his NHL draft year, chances are major junior will be where he plays, because it’s the highest level. And Adam Fantilli has always excelled at the highest level.

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