Aaron Ekblad took a big bite of his Geno’s cheesesteak and savored it.
Which you’d expect from a teenager from Windsor, Ontario, who had never had a genuine Philly cheesesteak until Wednesday afternoon.
“I loved it. It was really good,” said the 18-year-old from the Barrie Colts, who is hoping to become the first Canadian defenseman since Chris Phillips (1996) taken No. 1 overall in this weekend’s NHL draft at the Wells Fargo Center.
“Tell the fans of Philly that I love cheesesteaks. I had American, no wiz, no onions. It was very good.”
Ekblad was one of six top prospects who took a trolley tour of Philadelphia today.
It began with visiting the Art Museum and Rocky statue, then LOVE Park, then onto Pat’s and Geno’s, then the Betsy Ross House and finally concluded at Citizens Bank Park with a little batting practice.
“Visting Rocky was pretty cool,” said Ekblad. “Never seen Philadelphia until today.”
Ekblad made a bold prediction about BP with the Phillies and putting one out of the park.
“I haven’t swung a bat in three of four years,” he said, “but I think I’m one of the strongest of the [six].”
The others in the tour group were: Kingston center Samuel Bennett, Kootenay center Sam Reinhart, Prince Albert center Leon Draisaitl, Oshawa left wing Michael Dal Colle, and South Jersey defenseman Michael DeAngelo, from Sarnia.
“I prefer Pat’s, I like it better,” said DeAngelo, who is from Sewell, New Jersey. “The bread. I get wiz, no onions. That’s how my whole family gets it. My grandfather gets provolone and onions.
“But I don’t even eat cheesesteaks anymore. I like Nick’s Roast Beef down on 20th. That’s where I go.”
Dal Colle, from Richmond Hill, Ontario, was impressed with Geno’s.
“This was my first-ever cheesesteak from Philly and I got America without. I’m still getting used to that [expression]. It was good.”
Because he grew up across the river, DeAngelo was more than familiar with Philadelphia.
“But I had not been to the Art Musem or LOVE Park,” he said. “It was pretty cool.”
Dal Colle said he was a “big Eagles fan” and was looking forward to seeing the Linc, and then hitting some balls at Citizens Bank Park.
“I hadn’t been to a baseball stadium in a while,” he added. “Philly is definitely a good place.”
DeAngelo said his highlight would be to meet some of the Phillies. That didn’t happen.
Once the group arrived at the ballpark, they were greeted by broadcaster Matt Stairs, himself a Canadian and former youth hockey player, who gave them instructions on the hitting contest.
Because of the threat of rain, the prospects hit off a tee as the Phillies kept the mound under a tarp.
Bennett blew away the competition, drilling six balls to the outfield. Draisaitl struggled the most, smacking the tee six times before hitting a ball out of the infield.
“I played baseball for two, three years, but nothing serious when I was 10 or 11,” said Bennett, whose swing told you he knew what he was doing. “My heart was always in hockey though. I never pursued baseball that hard.”
Bennett is projected to go first-overall in the draft to the Florida Panthers.
“I’m so excited for Friday,” he said.
Asked if he had any side bet with Ekblad about going No. 1, he shrugged it off.
“Nah, even though we are really competitive guys, when it comes down to it, we’re just friends having a good time and it doesn’t matter too much who goes first,” Bennett said.
One more thing.
Bennett said he really liked his cheesesteak with American and fried onions.