ORILLIA — For Ontario Provincial Police “officers” Ben Scrivens and Tyler Ruegsegger, it was more or less a routine call — a late-model car at the side of the road with a few suspicious individuals inside.
But the call turned out to be far from routine.
As Ruegsegger and Scrivens, who was driving the OPP cruiser, pulled up beside the suspicious vehicle, two of the individuals inside suddenly jumped out and opened fire.
“Officers” Scrivens and Ruegsegger scrambled out of their cruiser amid the gun fire and attempted to fire back, but Scrivens, in his panic, forgot to take the cruiser out of drive, and their car began rolling away.
They were sitting ducks.
Fortunately, Scrivens and Ruegsegger aren’t real officers and the bad guys in the suspicious car were firing blanks.
Nevertheless, it was a surprisingly tense scene.
“How do you think things went?” OPP Academy instructor, Sgt. Jeff Simpkins later asked Scrivens and Ruegsegger as they tried to catch their breath and bring their soaring heart rates back down.
“Not well,” responded Scrivens meekly, prompting nervous laughter from a group of onlookers.
The “suspicious car” scene was one of several scenarios that Scrivens, an outstanding goaltender with Cornell University last season, and Ruegsegger, a forward with the University of Denver last year, and the rest of the Toronto Maple Leafs prospects experienced on Wednesday during a trip here to the OPP headquarters and training academy.
What made the scene with Scrivens and Ruegsegger that much more surprising was that, in an earlier scenario, “Officers” Jamie Devane, a rugged forward with Plymouth last season, and Windsor Spitfires forward Kenny Ryan, pulled up behind the same car with the same “suspicious” individuals inside.
But in that case, as they pulled up in the cruiser, the occupants of the suspicious car quickly jumped out and began to flee, all in different directions, prompting a shocked Devane and Ryan to give chase ... in vain, of course.
Nobody was caught, which had their teammates, and even some of the police instructors, in stitches.
Afterwards, all four “officers” took some good-natured ribbing.
“I was asked if that’s how we did it in Alberta,” said Spruce Grove, Alta., native Scrivens, of the rolling police cruiser.
“I told them: ‘No, we put our trucks in park when we’re out there.’ ”
Simpkins also explained to Devane and Ryan that there were several ways to prevent occupants in a car from fleeing the scene, though he admitted that, in real-life scenarios, that’s what suspicious characters often do. They flee.
Hell, I could have told the young prospects as much.
When we were teenagers back in the old neighbourhood, we’d spend our summer nights on the lookout for police cars.
When we’d spot one, we’d wait until they got close enough to spot us, and then we’d flee.
More often than not, the cops would jump out of their cruiser and give chase.
And if we got caught, we’d play dumb, which made the officers even angrier.
“Why were you running?” the breathless cops would ask.
“Why are you chasing us?” we’d would respond.
The fleeing part of the two scenarios at the OPP academy was amusing, but the shooting part certainly wasn’t, even if they were using blanks.
Scrivens and Ruegsegger admitted that the sheer surprise of being ambushed and fired upon was a shock to their systems, but also an excellent learning experience — as in how to stay cool when all hell is breaking out.
“I was in a little bit of panic to be honest with you,” said Scrivens, who was signed by the Leafs as a free agent this spring after posting a stellar 1.87 goals against and 21-9-4 record with Cornell.
“That’s why I forgot to put the cruiser in park as I bailed out.
“You knew you weren’t actually going to get hurt,” he added.
“But the heart rate was still up, the adrenalin was still going ... it’s definitely a whole different feeling than watching those things on TV, and hopefully we can translate some of this stuff we learned here to playing back on the ice.”
The young wannabe Leafs, which included the club’s No. 1 prospect, centre Nazem Kadri, also took target practice and tackled an obstacle course, all with the idea of team building.
And even though it was incredibly hot out on the training field, they definitely had a lot of fun.
The look on the faces of “officers” Devane and Ryan when the occupants of the suspicious car jumped out and ran away was priceless. As was the look on Devane’s face when, during target practice, as his soap pellet bullets seemed to fly in every direction except straight ahead, one of the OPP instructors looked over at Devane’s target, shook his head and quipped: “What’s going on there man?”
Another time, Sgt. Simpkins pointed out to “officer” Bradley Ross, the Leafs second-round pick this year, that he and his fellow officer, Joe Sova, a defenceman with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks last season, messed up their response to a wild house party. After responding to the call, a couple of the revellers (more Leafs prospects) jumped Ross and Sova with pushing and shoving and wrestling ensuing, a scene that got pretty rambunctious — until Simpkins put a stop to it.
“The bad guys got the jump on you. Would you agree with that?” Simpkins asked Ross.
“Yeah,” said Ross.
“So where’s the radio?” said Simpkins, noticing that the former Portland Winterhawks forward misplaced his police radio.
“It’s in the cop car,” said Ross.
“You mean the police vehicle?” said Simpkins.
“Uh, yeah,” said Ross, as his teammates guffawed nearby.
Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games.
The prospects arrived at the Academy on Tuesday night and were told that breakfast would be at 8 a.m.
“We set them up a little bit,” said Simpkins, with a laugh.
“We just said breakfast was at 8 a.m. They all assumed they’d be able to get up and have a leisurely breakfast.”
Not so. The prospects received a 5:30 a.m., wakeup call ... and not to easy-listening music on the clock radio.
“We woke them up in typical fashion that we’d wake recruits up,” said Simpkins.
“With whistles, and pounding on the doors, and we gave them essentially five minutes to get up, get dressed and be outside ready to go.”
Before breakfast, the prospects were forced to work out in the heat, then put through their places on the range — with various police scenarios, such as the suspicious car — followed by target practice and the obstacle course.
And then they were hit with a second “surprise” workout when it was all over.
“We worked their asses off,” said Simpkins.
Still, other than some caterpillar pushups, when they were forced to join in a long “combo-style” line with their heads practically buried in the butt of the guy in front, the prospects really seemed to enjoy it. Although they probably didn’t enjoy being called “a bunch of dancers” by one particularly tough-looking female OPP officer as she counted off while they did pushups.
“It’s been a blast, although I could use a shower at this point,” said Scrivens, after spending an hour at the shooting range.
“But it’s been a great day. It’s been exciting. We’ve learned a lot. There’s a lot of parallels between what these guys do (the police) and what we do on the ice. But their jobs are a little more dangerous than what we do.”