McTavish & Othmann learn in Switzerland
by Derek O'Brien|23 JUL 2021
Canadian forwards Brennan Othmann and Mason McTavish celebrate a goal at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. With the OHL season wiped out, both played together in Switzerland where they spent their childhood.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
The 2020/21 season was a difficult one for many hockey players, but for those in the Ontario Hockey League it was especially difficult, as the season never started. It should come as no surprise that players from that league who managed to improve their draft stock are those who found other places to ply their trade. For Mason McTavish of the Peterborough Petes and Brennan Othmann of the Flint Firebirds, that meant travelling overseas to play for EHC Olten in Switzerland’s second-tier professional league. 

“Obviously, it’s been a tough year for a lot of people not just trying to play hockey but also dealing with the pandemic,” said McTavish. “I was fortunate to get an opportunity to play in Olten in Switzerland, and I’m super thankful for that.”

“It was a fun decision and a hard decision to make, just because of being so far from my family,” said Othmann. “But my dad and uncle played over there, so I kinda knew what it was like to live over there. I was really looking forward to it and really excited to play over there. It was tons of fun and I learned a lot going into my draft year. It was a great decision and I have no regrets going.” 

His dad is Gery Othmann, who played 11 years in Switzerland before returning to Canada in 2001, two years before Brennan was born. His uncle Robert played 16 seasons in Switzerland, just retiring in 2016. 

McTavish also went to Switzerland because of family connections. He was born in Zurich while father Dale played in the top Swiss National League. Mason also has an older brother, Darian, who was born in Helsinki, Finland while their father played there. Having started his junior hockey, McTavish didn’t count as import player in Switzerland, neither did Othmann, who has Canadian and Swiss citizenship.

“I grew up around there and moved back to Ottawa when I was 10,” McTavish said about his early life in Switzerland. Still, the process of going overseas wasn’t easy, but he was determined to play somewhere rather than sit around and wait.

“It was probably around November I started trying to get the process going, but they wouldn’t let me into the country because I was 17,” said McTavish. “So I had to wait until I was 18 (on 30 January), got my work visa, and the next day I flew out. It’s just one of those things that happened in a crazy year, but I was super fortunate to get playing in Olten.”

Although he missed a good portion of the season, McTavish made up for it by scoring at a prolific rate – 11 points in 13 regular-season games and then seven in four playoff games. 

He added: “I really enjoyed my time there and learned a lot from the older guys and the coaching staff.” 

A Swiss citizen, Othmann didn’t need a visa and played the whole season in Olten, recording 16 points in 34 regular-season games and two more in four playoff games. 

“I think it’s going to help me going into an NHL camp, for sure,” said Othmann. “That’s going to benefit me a lot from playing in Switzerland. I learned a lot from the older guys there and the different coaches we had on the team. I think it’s just going to benefit me as a person and a player. I can’t wait to show that at the next level. I know it’s going to take hard work to get there and to play a top-six role but what I learned in Switzerland is really going to help with that and make the transition a lot easier.”

After the Swiss League season was over, both players also played for Canada at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Frisco and Plano, Texas. With McTavish as the captain, the Canadians ran the table with seven straight regulation-time victories, culminating in a 5-3 win over Russia in the final. With the final tied 2-2 after one period, Othmann scored the go-ahead goal early in the second – a lead they would never relinquish. McTavish was tied for fifth in tournament scoring with 11 points (5+6), while Othmann had six points (3+3). 
Both players are projected to be taken in the first round of this year’s NHL Entry Draft, with McTavish ranked anywhere from fifth to 13th among trusted scouting outlets and Othmann from 14th to 29th. Othmann acknowledges that his draft stock was helped by playing and that others were hurt by not playing. 

“It hurt a lot,” said Othmann. “I was very fortunate to play in Switzerand and at the U18s and be successful in both of those, but I honestly feel bad for my peers around me. We’ve worked our whole lives to get to the National Hockey League, and with the Draft coming up in a couple weeks’ time, I think we’re all excited but I just wish that some of my buddies and teammates had the opportunity to showcase themselves.”

Looking ahead to their careers beyond the Draft, both are probably looking at returning to the OHL after a season away. Othmann is looking at taking on a leadership role in Flint, where he credits the coaching staff with giving players room to grow. 

“I think they just trust their players,” said Othmann. “When Ty (Dellandrea) was there, they trusted him a lot. They took it as his team and I hope to do that next year – I think it’s gonna be my team and I’m looking forward to that. I hope they have full trust in me next year and I think they do and they’ll give me that full opportunity to be that number-one guy.”

As for McTavish, he sees himself as a top-six forward when he finally gets to the NHL and a physical two-way centre.

“I really admire the way Ryan Getzlaf plays,” said McTavish. “He’s a big centre, gets around pretty well and obviously has some high-end skill, so I definitely like to compare myself to him.”