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New Rink Developments, Ryan Murphy and John Gibson

From the outside looking in, it's been a pretty quiet week in Rangers Nation. The team has only played 2 games so far, and has really come out strong. Playing last night in Saginaw, the Rangers skated to a 4-1 win thanks to some strong play from net minder John Gibson. Anyone remember the last time the Rangers won a game based on a strong performance in net?

The really interesting story is brewing in Carolina, where Rangers defensemen Ryan Murphy remains with the Hurricanes. He's had a very strong camp with the Canes, showing them that he is capable of high level talent. The question being asked is, has he got what it takes to be in the NHL this year? Of course the vast majority of Rangers fans want him back on East Ave, myself included. Not because we want to see him fail of course, but because we always want our boys in blue to do well.

Glancing at the stats, the Hurricanes have 7 defensemen signed to contracts on their roster. This means that eventually we'll most likely see Murphy sent back down. Why should he spend a year sitting on the bench in Carolina, when he can spend it on the top line in Kitchener showing the new kids how it's done? The most likely outcome of this is Murphy will spend up to the maximum 9 games with the Hurricanes before his NHL contract kicks in, then he'll be sent back to Kitchener. He could also be sent back before then, as he hasn't played in the last 2 pre-season games for the Canes.

This of course is not a knock at Murphy's skill. He clearly is a top of the line defensemen, the kind of guy any GM would want on his team. One day he'll be a big NHL star, but he needs more development time.

The other big story breaking out of Rangers Nation this week was the announcement that the plans shown last summer for the expansion of the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium have been officially shelved. The plan can be seen here:

The plan called for an additional 3000 seats, which would have seen the Aud expanded to a capacity of just under 10,000 when standing room was included. However the City Of Kitchener expressed concerns that it would be impossible to complete the project on time, and therefore the Rangers were essentially told no. At this time, according to the City, there is no money for a new Arena in this city. So in order to buy a few more years at the Aud, the Rangers will be investing $9.6 million to expand the Aud by 1000 seats.

The question being asked about this is why bother? Even with an additional 1000 seats, this city is growing at a very fast pace. Even if the Aud today was 1000 seats bigger there would still be a need for a new arena. Band-aid solutions, in my opinion, are a temporary waste of money. I'd like to see a new rink built as soon as possible. However I do understand the concern of taxpayers not wanting to get stuck footing the bill. The City has invested millions in the downtown core in recent years. My opinion is that a new Arena downtown would be even better than any of the other work thats been done.

The Rangers play Saturday night in the Soo, then return to Kitchener on October 7th for an Oktoberfest showdown when Saginaw comes to town.

If a tree falls in the Hershey Centre, but nobody is around to hear it...

Who says it’s too early for CHL rankings? Probably a lot of people, but seeing the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors in the number 10 position is quite appealing. Pretty arguable considering the season just started, but most people would agree that going 2-0 is better than 0-2.

One more game on the road against Niagara and then the home opener…

Sure, all this is a big deal to me, but we all know the rest of Mississauga doesn’t seem to have the same opinion. If its residents did, they’d be filing into the Hershey Centre every game.

This has always been a sensitive subject for me since I’ve been a major junior hockey fan for years. Even the Mississauga IceDogs didn’t fill the seats the way the team deserved, but it was a better turnout than the Majors have been getting. When the IceDogs left in 2007, it took me a couple of years to get used to the Majors; after all, the two teams were (and still are) rivals. Perhaps other fans felt the same way.

There are so many different factors that contribute to the lack of attendance, but a lot of it is just hearsay.

To quote ITO’s Trevor Miller, “too many Tim Horton’s?” Still not sure what you meant by that, but anything seems possible.

Mississauga is a highly populated city. One would think it’s easy to get enough people out to a game, but it doesn’t seem to fit the demographics. In smaller cities, hockey is hometown, it’s part of the community. With so much attention on Leafs Nation, it’s arguably impossible to get people out to a major junior game here. In Toronto, you have a losing team with unbelievably high attendance records. Yet its neighbouring city can’t get enough fans out to its winning team’s games, even at a significantly lower price point. Someone figure that out and get back to me once you have the answer.

Then there’s the status topic. Of course as teams win, the arena fills up. That’s the case in any sport and Brampton is an example of that during its run in 2009.

The IceDogs had a great team and a superstar in Patrick O’Sullivan for years. He was talented and exciting to watch, and a strong leader for that group. Many talented players, but right now and even in recent years, the Majors lack that “it” player; “the face of the Majors” or whatever you want to call it.

Back on a bitter cold evening in January, 2008, I dug my car out of the snow and drove to the Hershey Centre just to catch a glimpse of John Tavares, and apparently so did thousands of other people. This was probably my first game back at the Hershey Centre since the IceDogs moved. The place was sold out. In that kind of weather under those circumstances, I’m sure a lot of people had the same idea in mind as me; to see a future legend.

In their 2010-11 home opener against the Spitfires, the Majors had about 4200 tickets sold in an arena that holds 5400 seated. I was there and noticed a lot of Windsor fans, but plenty of blue nonetheless. During regular season, they averaged around 2500 per game. As playoffs approached, that number increased by 1000+ more. Finally saw a sold out Hershey Centre during the latter rounds of the playoffs, but Niagara and Owen Sound fans are to thank for that. The numbers put up during the regular season is enough to sell out The Jack in St. Catharines. Before I get hate mail from Niagara fans (if I’m even worthy of hate mail) I’m well aware that little deserves to be compared to IceDogs fans because it’s safe to say the arena could easily sell more if it had the space.

On November 10 last season, the Majors hosted a special Remembrance Day game, as they do every year. It’s a great event; kids take the day off school and fill the arena. Last year that number was just under 5000. Not to mention that game represents a lot more than just hockey. So why the huge difference? This game is highly advertised, so that could be a contributing factor. But to me, it seems like people need a reason to go, as long as that reason is, “I get to miss school” and not, “because I love hockey and want to be here.”

I have to give credit to the fans that are there. They show up in their double blue, cheering on their home team at Hershey then making the journey to places like Guelph, Kitchener, and St. Catharines. I know this because I've seen them there. Season ticket holder, Dancing Dave, I look forward to seeing you this year.

For all you people who continue to make jokes about it…give it a rest already. The jokes are tiresome and overdone. The numbers aren’t as bad as you think. You’re entitled to an opinion, but keep in mind, people can be sheep; if you make fun of the situation, they’ll follow suit.

I’ll be at the games, so if anyone wants to join me, I’ll see you there.

Moving On Up?

They say what goes up must come down, but do not tell that to Barrie Colts center Mark Scheifele.

The Barrie Colts forward has had a dream off season, surprising many by being drafted 7th overall by the Winnipeg Jets, and continuing to surprise by performing exceptionally well during NHL training camp.

Having seen Mark play all last year, there was definitely something special that stood out when he took the ice. His size and offensive abilities stood out to Coach Hawerchuk as well, as he played the whole season on the first line putting up 75 points for the last place Colts.

Scheifele received the ultimate hockey honour last year being selected to play for his country in the U18 World Championship. Although the team fell short of winning gold, Mark was selected as one of the top three players on the team, not too shabby for the first year OHLer.

Fast forward to OHL training camp this year, where I, along with many of my colleagues, saw the improvements he had made over the off season. Having gained speed and gotten stronger, he was easily the best player on the ice every night. Playing on a preseason line with Behenna and Pearson, these three looked like wizards, moving the puck where and however they wanted.

This strong play has carried over to Jets camp, where going into play tonight, he has been the top preseason scorer for the team with six points in three games. Now there is talk of him at least starting with the team for at least the first nine games of the year, after which he would still be eligible to return to junior if that is what the team decides to do.

Having watched a couple of his preseason games it certainly seems like he has fit in with the big club. Atlanta was no powerhouse last year and could certainly use a player with Scheifele’s offensive abilities. Head coach Claude Noel seems to be very high on Mark, but hasn’t made a decision on his future at this point. Having called him the best player on the ice after the first preseason game, he could be waiting until a contract is signed to make his decision.

After talking with him a couple times last year, it was evident that he is a very smart guy who would certainly be ready to step up to whatever challenge is thrown his way. Although I am looking forward to see him suit up for Barrie again this year, if he manages to make the Jets, this surprise would certainly be the sweetest of them all for the 18 year old.

OHL Three Stars for Opening Week

After an off-season that seemed as though it would last forever, the Ontario Hockey League Season has finally begun. We've already had our share of great performances, including Max Domi's Hat Trick debut for the London Knights. Today, we pick the three players whose performances over the past week make them worthy of mention in our OHL Three Stars.

1. Tanner Pearson (Barrie Colts) - Tanner was a key contributor for Barrie this week, helping to lead the Colts to a 2-0 start to the OHL Season. It started on Thursday night, when he would score twice and add three assists in a 7-4 victory over the Kingston Frontenacs. The five point night would quickly loft Tanner to the top of the OHL Scoring Race, but he wouldn't stop there, as the following night, Tanner's Hat Trick would lead the Colts over the Brampton Battalion, 3-1. With 8 points in just two games (5G, 3A) Tanner is this week's OHL First Star.

2. Michael Houser (London Knights) - Michael would post a brilliant 36 save shutout of the Saginaw Spirit in the Knights season opener on Friday night, a fact overshadowed by the OHL debut of one Max Domi. Not to be outdone, Houser would perform even better just two nights later in Guelph, as he would stop 45 0f 46 shots he faced during regulation, as well as all three Storm Shootout Attempts in a 2-1 victory, earning this week's Second Star.

3. Cameron Brace (Owen Sound Attack) - Cameron is one of those players that every successful team needs, a player who brings a little of everything. He did so this week for the Attack, notching an assist on opening night against the Plymouth Whalers. Brace would follow that up with a pair of two point games over the weekend, scoring twice on Friday to help Owen Sound defeat Guelph 6-4, and adding a couple of assists the next night against the Saginaw Spirit. His two goals and three assists would give him five points in the first week of the season, and he would also lead the Attack with a +5 rating to go with eight penalty minutes. Often underrated, Cameron Brace earns this week's OHL Third Star.

Be sure to check back next Wednesday for the first OHL Power Rankings of the year, as we break down all 20 Ontario Hockey League teams. In the meantime, you can always find a conversation on Twitter, find me at @N24Nicholson.

Don't Tweet Me Bro!

*WARNING,WARNING - This post will sound as if my ego wrote it but in fact it only helped*

This post comes off the heels of some people chirping me and something I wanted to address a while back. The art of tweeting at players, and in this case... OHL Players. Yes I said the art of tweeting. I am going to sound like a prick for this single sentence but there is a point to it. When I tweet and @ players I do it because I am suppose to while there are people out there who do it for no reason. And what I mean by this is that I am media and you are not. Ok cue the hate mail. But let me explain this.

When I am at the rink, I get to see the things you won't through television, and even some stuff that is caught during the commercial break. Now sometimes the it isn’t mentioned how good or bad a players shift is and that is where I come in… ok maybe it is my self appointed duty that I tweet the positives and negatives of these players. And you know what… when they chirp me back it is rightfully so.

Last season in Niagara, Kingston was playing the IceDogs and I remember this vividly as I had a post game interview with Conor Stokes and Sean Jones. After the game on my drive home, I get ‘tweeted at’ by a Mr. Jeff Braithwaite. Now I do not hate him for this, heck I @ mentioned him and said something to the effect of, ‘the IceDogs goal came courtesy of @Braith05 not clearing the puck on 2 attempts.’
I was just noting an observation but by @ mentioning him, he has every right to respond back and he did. ‘@intheoradio why don’t you get a real job’

I laughed, I even responded saying, ‘I am trying to make this my job, how bout an interview to discuss my analysis.’

No response, not that I expected to have any banter with him after that anyways. Now here is my point, Kingston fans (gotta love them) who follow and saw Froats comments to me, were right there on the draw ready to stand up and come to my defence… and that I appreciate. They said things like, ‘if you played better then he wouldn’t have to point it out’, and such things like that. But this got carried away. I love the support I got, but you have to know when to stop. You can not keep harping on a player well after he stopped responding. Now you are just mentioning him and being a dick. And this has happened more than once. In discussion with other twitter followers, we began talking about various players. Where they would @ mention them.  My question is why? Why do you always have to mention them on twitter? Especially when you are talking negatively about said players. Do you want these guys to leave twitter? You follow them to see what they are up to, or to chat with them if they choose to engage with you. So why do you think you can harp on them and expect them to even waste their time with you?

Players like Franky Palazesse and Mark Visentin have gotten off of twitter because of the hate. Now some of you will always say, Visentin hate is valid because he lost the gold medal game. first of all I thought hockey is a team game, and secondly, I will defend him till the end. Go talk to Mark and see what he says about that game. he doesn’t care anymore. And when he wins a gold this holiday season… wait lets get back to my original rant.

Again like I said at the beginning I sound like a giant prick up here on my media perch, but that is not the intent. Again, I am privileged to talk to these players off the ice, whether it is at the rink, or through the phone, email, twitter or carrier pigeon. And even on twitter I am humbled, and surprised even, when some players decide to follow me back. I have made some good relationships with guys like @cdesousa28, @buonomo20, @judder14 and @bthomps9 to name a few. But for all the love I get from these players, I am still going to get hate, and that is fair game because again… I am media. I am suppose to get hated on and have people tell me I am full of it and I don’t know anything.

A more recent example came during the exhibition season when I didn’t even know this player had twitter. Peterborough versus Mississauga at the new old Port Credit barn. I tweeted that Clark Seymour was having a good game on D because he was breaking up a couple 1 on 1’s… and then 2 periods later I tweeted ‘I take back what I said about Clark Seymour, average game and could not clear the puck on 3 attempts one shift’. Like I said, I did not know that @seabiscuit4 had twitter, and I never @ mentioned him. But I get a response from him saying ‘@intheoradio needs to stop mucking potato chips and pulling his own goalie #classicsuperfan’

Yeah I laughed, I laughed everytime I read that. Not just because it was funny, but because he had to search himself on twitter to find out I was talking about him. Really? A vanity search on twitter LOL. I did the same thing as I did with Froats ‘@seabiscuit4 appreciate the feedback, maybe an interview to discuss my analysis’… never heard from him again. But I still laugh at the tweet.

My point in all this if it has gotten lost in the shuffle, is that when you are tweeting at these players remember, they are not on twitter for you. They have other friends and they may be on twitter, and it the cool public way to text each other. Just because they are on twitter, doesn’t mean you can start spouting off at them and telling them that they suck. Really do you want to be the one responsible for having one of them get off twitter? I know some of you are saying that would be great, but seriously? Do you have nothing better to do than that?

Tweet these guys smartly, if you want to be negative do it once. Do not keep at it until they block you, or report you. But don’t forget it goes both ways, you want to chirp them… they will chirp you back. Like @bthomps9 did to me on a Saturday night… doesn’t he have something better to do on a Sat night than chirp me? I was walking my dog man what were you doing? Lol.

By saying all this I am not innocent. I have had players follow me and then a week or two later unfollow me. I have had them unfollow me for the summer because… well if I am going to talk about the OHL… no point in following me when there is none right? I have also had players block me… why? Well it wouldn’t be for tweeting at them negatively, but again it is their choice to follow, block, ignore, report whatever. So be smart when you are tweeting at these players. If you want to tweet me and talk negatively about players, just stop @ mentioning them. I have no problem saying Clint Windsor is a poor goalie, but I do not @ him… even though he now follows me… maybe he doesn’t anymore. These kids have enough pressure and they use twitter for fun. So don’t make them regret logging on to joke around with friends…

I will now get off my media perch and if you want… tweet me your hate mail for sounding like a prick @intheoradio odds are you already follow so I will be waiting for it.

Tweet smarter not… .what rhymes here?

Battalion draw even after opening weekend

The Brampton Battalion kicked off the 2011-2012 season with a heartbreaking 3-1 loss to the Barrie Colts on Friday night. After going 2-3 in preseason competition, the Battalion were looking for a big start, but were missing some key components from the lineup. Zach Bell and Barclay Goodrow sat out the contest due to nagging injuries. The Colts on the other hand, entered the game coming off of a 7-4 victory over Kingston the night before and were looking to add to their hot start.

After notching five points against the Fronts on Thursday, Tanner Pearson of the Colts continued his dominating play by scoring all three goals in a 3-1 victory over the Battalion. Barrie Captain Colin Behenna has been lined up with Pearson thus far and the combo has been dangerous for the Colts through the first two games. They have filled a hole in the early going that has been left by Mark Schiefele who has yet to be sent back to Barrie from the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets. Youngster Aaron Ekblad also had a solid second game for the Colts. He registered his first penalty in the OHL, but stopped Michael Santini from converting a chance in front of the net in the process.

For the Troops, Ian Watters scored the lone goal in a game that the Battalion dominated physically, especially in the first period. Matej Machovsky was sensational in the loss stopping two separate Colts breakaways, either of which could have blown the game wide open.

Machovsky and the Battalion however, wasted little time getting into the “win” column on the road in Sudbury on Saturday night. In their second game in as many nights, Brampton got the best of the Wolves outscoring them 5-0. Machovsky closed the door on the Wolves offense recording his first shut-out of the season, while Watters added two goals to give him three thus far. Philip Lane also had a big night registering a goal and two assists.

On Friday morning, the Battalion announced that Sam Carrick would be the Captain for the coming season. On Saturday, he showed why Stan Butler and company chose him to lead this year’s team. Coming off of the tough loss on home ice to Barrie in the opener, Carrick put in what would end up being the winning goal on the road in Sudbury. He added an assist in the victory bringing his team to .500-hockey through the first weekend of the season.

Next up for the Battalion is Kingston on Thursday. The Fronts will head into Brampton at 0-3 and desperately looking for their first win of the season. If the Troops play like they did on Saturday night against the Wolves, they should pick up their first home win of the year and be 2-1 heading into Sarnia on Friday. Battalion fans can only hope that they don’t get stung when they get there.

The Jack

When the Mississauga Ice Dogs relocated to St. Catharines in 2007, the number one question on every one’s mind was how were Bill and Denise Burke going to make the old barn of an arena work for a financially successfully OHL team?

Now in the fifth season, the answer is just fine, thank you very much.

When the first Niagara Ice Dog team stepped on the ice for their very first home opener, all doubts were erased. With an opening sell out game against their new rival, Mississauga Majors, the relocated Dogs of that first season (think Cuputi, Legein, Swift, DeSousa) realized it was a great place to play after years of yawning fans in the cavernous Hershey Centre. The first season averaged 2,722 cheering, loud raucous fans (yes, I’m thinking of you Section M) and they led the league in 15 sell out games.

The old barn of an arena was not a detriment after all and in fact those early Dogs affectionately dubbed the arena as “the Jack.”

The Jack is short for the Jack Gatecliff Arena otherwise known as The Gatorade Garden City Centre. (or Double G, Double C as boss man Brandon Sudeyko refers to it) Built in 1938, it is by far the oldest venue in the OHL and is in dire need of repair or as most agrees - replacement. With mice literally eating away at concession profits, the need for additional space for box seats and the limited parking, no one can disagree the arena is in need of replacement.

But as the Ice Dogs enter their fifth year of exciting OHL play in the old barn, city council is finally seriously planning a new spectator center for St. Catharines. At last week’s council meeting it was unanimously voted to hire a consultant to help design and cost-out a new spectator facility for downtown St. Catharines. This will provide the Ice Dogs a new and improved facility, but at a huge cost. Currently the Burkes are paying a nominal $2.00 a year rent but if a new arena is built, Bill Burke has agreed in principle to a 20-year lease paying market value rent of $10,000 a game or $400,000 a year.

I am sure this will be a long process but well worth the wait for the citizens of St. Catharines and the players and fans of the Niagara Ice Dogs. But no matter what wondrous facility is built, will it ever be as loud and crazy as the Jack during a play-off run?

Dog Bytes:

  • Bruins have sent back Dougie Hamilton to Niagara
  • Blues have sent back Brock Beukeboom to the Soo (I’m sure they meant to say Niagara)
  • Vancouver sent unsigned Friesen to AHL Chicago but he could still come back to Ice Dogs as over-ager.
  • Former Ice Dog and Team Canada member Stefan Legein was released by Philadelphia Flyers

Aaron Ekblad shines through in Colts Debut

ITO Special by: Bryan Thiel

It takes a very special person to bend the rules and get away with it.

Aaron Ekblad is a special person.

Earlier this year, the 15-year old became just the second player in OHL history to be granted exceptional status and enter the league a year early. And like the man before him, Ekblad made sure to prove the exception wasn’t a fluke.

In a 7-4 Barrie Colts win, the 6’3”, 200lbs defenseman didn’t look like he was playing in his first career OHL game. He didn’t even look like he was playing in his first OHL season. He skated like a veteran, made silky-smooth passes and moves with the puck, and thought through the game at least to the level of his competitors, if not above that level at points.

Ekblad, in many ways, showed flashes of the same moxy and poise that one-time Colts’ defenseman Alex Pietrangelo showed in his final OHL season.

When asked about nerves, the savvy teen shrugged the question off. Asked if he was too excited to sleep during his typical pre-game nap amidst the buildup to his much-anticipated debut it was a simple “Nah…I was able to get it in just fine.”

It’s impressive, considering the pressure put on the teen-aged players who are supposed to be in the league. Not one that’s playing ahead of himself.

But that’s just the thing. Ekblad doesn’t look like he’s playing ahead of himself. He let’s the game come to him, and recognizes a role.

“The season is going to be about looking at my performance after every game and whether or not I’m happy with it. Points are nice, but if they aren’t there, they aren’t there. I’m a defenseman and my job is to keep the puck out of my own net.”

The fact that Ekblad is able to recognize his responsibilities at such a young age and realize that the attention he’s getting doesn’t need to be justified with production is stunning. Especially since these days fans and media really only gauge a player’s worth or growth through offensive totals.

But getting back to his job, in his first game, he did a pretty good job of keeping the puck out of his net. Of the four Kingston goals scored, Ekblad wasn’t on the ice for any of them. He even found himself on the penalty kill as the game wore on, shifts he wasn’t taking at the beginning of the game, while he played regular time on the power play. He even started the second with a shift where the Colts had trouble getting off for a change, but seemed to handle it as well as any young defenseman could.

“I’m not really (tired). Yeah it’s hard out there and will wear you down, but it’s also what you prepare and train for, so you’ve got to be ready.”

The level-headedness of the top-pairing defenseman is something that bodes well for Ekblad’s future, and along with his character is what convinced Hockey Canada he was ready to make the job. It becomes especially important when you consider the attention he’s going to receive, not only in his first year, but the rest of his junior career.

And we’ve got a pretty good idea of what that coverage is going to be like, as it was back in the 2005-06 season that John Tavares stormed into the OHL with a goal in his first game and nine in his first seven games. Between electrifying fans, people trying to get their own look at the future first-overall pick, and thunderous trade rumours, it’s a wonder Tavares ever got any peace. Maybe he didn’t.

Attention or not though, Colts’ captain Colin Behenna knows that team has got something special.

“He’s a really special player and you can tell that just by looking at him. He’s 15 years old, but he’s able to do some amazing things out there. It’s fun to watch.”

Exceptional status or not though, Ekblad is still a rookie, which puts him on the low end of the totem pole. Which means…

“I don’t have to do that (when asked about carrying roommate Norm Ezekiel’s sticks), but there are other rookie duties. I can’t get out of those.”

And in terms of setting the tone with pre-game music?

“Rookies are rookies, they don’t get to touch the music in the dressing room, “ cracked Behenna.

The day will come sooner than later though, when Ekblad gets his say on the tunes.

Rangers open season with 4-3 win over Windsor

Pedersen, Thompson, Meighan and Rieder score for the Rangers last night at the Aud. A quick start to this one, as the Rangers got off to a one goal lead just 2 minutes in to the first. Thompson would add to the lead a few minutes later on the power play. The rangers would then get themselves into penalty trouble in the latter half of the first and heading in to the second. Radek Faksa was called for tripping and joined Evan McEnemy who was in the box already. The Spits didn't take long to capitalize on the 5-on-3 as Zack MacQueen beat John Gibson to make it 2-1.

A quick start to the second period saw the spits jump out to a 3-2 lead before most fans had even found their seats. Michael Clarke scored for the spits to tie it up, just 40 seconds before Faksa and Michael Hasson were sent to the box at the same time. Windsor would capitalize on the 5-on-3 again to give them the lead.

The third period got off to an explosive start as Matia Marcantuoni was crushed hard into the glass next to the Windsor bench. The glass shattered around him as glass rained over the area. Marcantuoni quickly left the ice and went to the dressing room to shake off. After a 30 minute delay, the game resumed. The game was tied around the 10 minute mark. Curtis Meighan scored on a pretty play from Hasson and Jared Gilbert. The Rangers turned on the pressure throughout the rest of the period, with Tobias Rieder finally beating John Cullen with 1:30 to go in the game.

Overall, it was a very entertaining game. However there was a few serious holes. The Rangers PP needs a lot of work. Of course there missing the star Ryan Murphy, but they left a lot to be desired. They had a very hard time setting up and getting good shots in on the PP. On the other hand the PK played well. Not perfect, but well. Windsor's power play already looks to be in mid-season form, but during 5-on-5 play both teams looked pretty boring. Neither got a lot going. There was a lot of back and forth play and a few good shots, but overall there needed to be a little bit more.

Prior to the game I chatted with new Rangers netminder Franky Palazzese. He told me he's very excited to be playing with the Rangers, calling them the best organization in the league. He also said he was happy to get away from his demons in Kingston and try to start fresh here in Kitchener. Overall Franky felt that his exhibition play was pretty good, which I think most fans would agree with. The Rangers overall played very well in front of him which he said made it pretty easy for him. He added though that it's time to move on and focus on the regular season. Franky's said his plan for dealing with the pressure that's regularly put on Rangers goaltenders was to try not to think about it, and think team first. He compared it to being a goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs; always under the microscope.

Franky likes to consider himself an underdog. This is part of the inspiration for his new mask. Rocky Balboa is featured, who was a childhood hero of his. The mask also features Don Cherry, a tribute to the man from Kingston who is always focused on the Canadian troops. Franky said this is a main reason why he has him on his mask. He also has an Italian flag and a cross on the back.

Overall his goals for the season include proving that he has what it takes to push Gibsn for the number one spot, as well as hopefully achieve an NHL contract after being passed over in the draft. However, he repeated that his focus is always team first. Something I think is great to hear.

Wolves looking to take a bite out of Mississauga...if the Majors let them

Welcome to the start of another Ontario Hockey League season. It seems like just yesterday the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors said goodbye to another year and a lot of talented players. This Fall brings change, which is no surprise to a lot of people.

After finishing preseason with a 1-3-2 record, the Majors take the journey four hours north in their season opener to the Sudbury Community Arena for the first time since sweeping the Wolves in April. Revenge, anyone?

There’s no question that Sudbury will be a great team this year. To help in tonight’s matchup are top-line fowards Michael Sgarbossa and Josh Leivo who have returned from NHL main camps (San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively). Although, the team will be without defenceman Frank Corrado and Josh McFadden.

Let’s take a second to break down Mississauga:

JP Anderson is back, so no doubt he’ll get the start between the pipes tonight. His backup, I’m going with Spencer Martin. He looked good in preseason and he’s young. At 16-years-old, the Majors coaching staff can mold and develop Martin into the netminder they need him to be over the next few years. He has a lot of potential and I like what I’m seeing from him so far. He went 1-2 in exhibition, stopping 35 of 36 shots in his first tilt against Peterborough in which he earned a win. He then took losses against the Petes and Owen Sound, but made 30 saves in that final game against the Attack.

Joseph Cramarossa will be taking his centre position in the lineup tonight. I think he has the potential to move into a more offensive role this year, but still not top line. I have to admit, he didn’t impress me during the exhibition games he played with the Majors before leaving for Ducks rookie camp. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. I know he’s a good player; I referred to him as a beaut on skates several times last year with his speed and puck handling abilities, and of course his epic head-first fall into the Majors bench during the Memorial Cup game versus Owen Sound. All players are allowed to have off games and preseason is the time to do it.

Stuart Percy is Stuart Percy. After being cut by the Leafs yesterday, he will be back to anchor the blueline for another season.

Devante Smith-Pelly is still away and they’re going to miss him tonight. The big body out in front generating offence is a force most teams would like to have. Once his future is decided, we’ll see who can fill his role if necessary.

As for the top line, I think Jordan Mayer will have no problem being the centre leader. Had Smith-Pelly been back, you could count on him left-winging Mayer. Riley Brace took top line while he was away, so I’ll look to him to fill that position again. On the right, I’m going with my main man Derek Schoenmakers. I’m counting on him to produce a lot more this year, so he’d better not let me down. He and Brace have been gelling together quite nicely so right now I don’t want to break them apart. However, if Smith-Pelly returns, I think it would be very interesting to see him on the left with Russian Sergey Kuptsov on the right. Two big guys (Smith-Pelly 6’0” 216 lbs; Kuptsov 6’2” 212 lbs) surrounding Mayer. Makes ya think, doesn’t it?

I think as the year goes on, we could be seeing a lot more from Kuptsov, the 16th overall pick in the CHL Import Draft. It will be hard for him to fill Maxim Kitsyn’s shoes, but he has the ingredients to do it. All he needs is some more time. He’s only 16-years-old after all (17 on October 6). He’s big and fast. In his scouting report he was considered a very solid all around player and can play decently on defence. Now let’s see if he can deliver. Oddly enough, he is the pick the Majors got from Sudbury.

Last season, fans and media had such high expectations of Mississauga. And the team certainly delivered. On paper, they were the second best squad in Canada behind Saint John, and they lost to the best team in the nation, despite some critics who thought they wouldn’t make it to the Memorial Cup final. So if you look at it from that perspective, they did exactly what they were supposed to do, which was finishing second best. If only everything were that simple. Of course, if they weren’t the host team, they wouldn’t have been there due to their loss against Owen Sound.

But moving on from that, this team has a lot less pressure on its shoulders. I believe this is the Majors chance to show everyone what they’re made of and prove that they’ve still got what it takes to be a top team. I’ve heard opinions from both ends; some saying they’ll still be a top team, others saying they’ll just barely make the playoffs. Either way, it seems like they can’t go wrong.

As for James Boyd…it’s time to give the guy more credit. He’s been with the organization for years; three years as an associate with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors and four years as co-coach with Mississauga. He knows his players well and he knows hockey. Not nearly as intimidating as Dave Cameron, but for someone in my position, I’m not complaining about that.

Prediction time: I’d like to see the Majors win, but I don’t think they have it just yet. I’m going for Sudbury to take this one in a close game, 4-3.

OHL East Division Preview

With another Ontario Hockey League Season upon us, the time has come to break down each of the five teams in the East Division, and see how they measure up. Will Ottawa repeat as East Division Champs, or will we see the Oshawa Generals rise to the top? Can the Kingston Frontenacs avoid a letdown season? Belleville or Peterborough, which team is ready to make a big leap this season?

Let’s try and answer these questions, as I make my fearless predictions as to how the East Division will finish this season.

1st. Oshawa Generals

The Generals may still have a question in net, even after giving up 4 picks, including a pair of 2nd rounders, to land Dan Altshuller from Belleville. Many believe that the price paid for an unproven OHL goaltender was too high. I am not one of those people. Altshuller has proven to have big game experience at every level he has played, winning Gold Medals as the starter for Canada at both the Under-17 Championships, and again at last month’s Ivan Hlinka Championship. Daniel will likely usurp Kevin Bailie for the starter’s job, but if Altshuller falters, the Gens are likely to look for an Overage tender to fill in.

Up front, the Generals have one of the best offences in the Ontario Hockey League, a solid compliment that should be enough on many nights to hide defensive deficiencies. Led by 50 goal man Christian Thomas, and with a supporting cast including first round pick Nicklas Jensen, Lucas Lessio, Boone Jenner, and Import Sebastien Uvira, who has put up big numbers overseas.

The Defence corps has taken a hit this year, with the departures of Calvin De Haan and Tony Dehart, but Scott Valentine seems poised to step into a bigger role this season. Valentine, as well as Colin Suellentrop will anchor a veteran defence core including Daniel Maggio and Nick Quinn. They have been experimenting with LW Kyle Hope playing defence this pre-season, but may look to acquire another solid blueliner.

2nd. Ottawa 67’s

Unlike the Generals, the 67’s have no questions in net, as the team of Petr Mrazek and Shayne Campbell will be back between the pipes again this season. After leading the 67’s to the East Division crown, they should be in the thick of the race once again this year.

The big question facing Ottawa may very well be on Defence, as they will have a younger unit patrolling the line in 2012. The acquisition of Michal Cajkovsky from Kingston will help provide some leadership.

Up front, they are another team that should score plenty of goals this season. With their own returning 50 goal scorer Tyler Toffoli leading the way, along with Shane Prince and Ryan Martindale adding offence, the 67’s will be in the hunt for the East Division Crown all season long.

3rd. Belleville Bulls

The Bulls brought in John Chartrand from Barrie to split time with Malcolm Subban this season, and the two 93 born goaltenders will be counted on to make significant improvements from last season.

The Bulls strength may very well be on the blue line, where they have one of the most experienced defence corps in the division. Steven Silas, Branden Morris, Adam Bignell, and Simon Gronvaldt will be joined by highly regarded draft pick Jordan Subban.

Brett Mackie, Luke Judson, and Adam Payerl appear ready to lead the Bulls to improve on last season, and extra leadership was brought in over the summer when Belleville acquired Garrett Hooey from Sarnia and Danny Elser from London. The Bulls should make significant strides within the East Division, and may even compete for home ice advantage in the playoffs.

4th. Peterborough Petes

Andrew D’Agostini will have competition between the pipes this year, as the Petes have brought in Michael Morrison from the Kitchener Rangers. Morrison should likely replace D’Agostini as the starter in Peterborough, and is the type of goalie who can give the Petes a chance to win on any given night.

The Petes will bring a young defence corps into the season. Slater Koekkoek and Steven Trojanovic will be counted on to play a lot more this season, and help mold the rest of this young blueline. Kalle Ekelund will be missed on this year’s squad.

Austin Watson and Matt Puempel will continue to lead the way for Peterborough offensively, and Nick Ritchie should be able to jump in and contribute immediately. Beyond that, there is a question as to whether this team can get enough secondary scoring to be competitive. I expect them to qualify for the playoffs this season, but it won’t come easy.

5th. Kingston Frontenacs

The team is entering a rebuilding phase, as longtime GM Larry Mavety has moved on, and Doug Gilmour has moved from Head Coach into the General Manager’s Office. One of his first orders of business was to hire his replacement behind the bench, and for that, he turned to a former teammate, Todd Gill. Igor Bobkov, the Russian gold medal winning goaltender from last year’s World Junior Championship, has been brought in from London to anchor this Frontenacs team this season, but I don’t think it will be enough to keep Kingston from falling this year.

With Erik and Alex Gudbranson on defence, the Fronts will rely on them to eat big minutes this year. Other than the brothers, only Jeff Braithwaite has any experience on the Kingston blue line, and if the Florida Panthers decide to keep Erik, which at this time is a serious possibility, things could go from very bad to catastrophic in Kingston.

Ryan Spooner will be back to lead the Fronts offensively this season, but the loss of Nathan Moon will not be easy to overcome. Spooner will be hard-pressed to find help from elsewhere to make up for the lack of scoring, though Petr Beranek was brought in from the Colts to provide some scoring relief. For the Fronts to find any sort of success this season, they will need strong seasons from players such as Derek Froats, Nathan Cull, and Dylan Staples.

This is how I see the East Division playing out in 2011-12. I reserve the right to change my mind (and likely will, repeatedly) throughout the course of the season.

Michael Hasson: Too Little too late?

Michael Hasson is a name that a few weeks ago I wrote off as a player who wouldn't make the Kitchener Rangers this season. He played few playoffs games last season, and during the regular season he didn't produce very much. Hasson scored 2 goals last season (only one as a Ranger) and had 4 points total. He seemed like an obvious write off coming in to camp.

However, he has now scored more goals during the Rangers exhibition play than he did all last year, including a 2 goal performance against Sudbury this past saturday. Has he proved at camp that he finally has what it takes to play in this league? I'm still not quite convinced.

Hasson has played strong, there is no question about that. But the truth of the matter is that he has had 4 previous seasons in this league, now with his third team, to prove that he has the skill it takes to win. He has yet to show this skill. Maybe at some point during the offseason he woke up and realized this was his last chance to prove anything, so he's coming out guns blazing, and good for him. It's exactly what he needs to do. After his strong camp the question becomes can he keep it up throughout the regular season?

At the time of writing this post, the Rangers have 3 over age players who are not at an NHL training camp. These players are Michael Cattenaci, Jonathan Jasper, and Michael Hasson. Ryan Lopes was released by the team last week, presumably because Spott couldn't find a good trade for him. There is a high chance that either Julian Melchiori or Cody Sol will return to the team this year. Most likely it will be Melchiori. This will make another tough decision. As some have pointed out, having 2 overage defencemen is not the best option, especially when the Rangers are so loaded with young talent. Why give ice time to Jasper, a 20 year old player who hasn't proved much skill, when you can give it to Max Iafrate or Ben Fanelli or Cody Genovese? These are the players who will make up the next 2-3 years of the Rangers, they need all the ice time they can get to develop. 

So whats the next step? I think the best option is for Spott to keep a few overagers as long as possible. See how the season begins. It's obvious that this team doesn't have championship potential this year, but there is skill. Maybe trade a few of the overage experienced guys for a few draft picks down the road. A few rumours have it that Spott isn't being patient about this next decision, and will move Hasson in the next few days. Not a bad trade, considering his play in camp and exhibition, Hasson would probably bring back a couple of assets. However Hasson may be in line to have a Jason Akeson style season. Akey produced a lot more than Hasson during his first few seasons In the O, but he really turned it on during his OA year, earning him a contract with Philadelphia. Could Hasson do the same?

Steve Spott has a few difficult decisions to make regarding this years crop of OA's. My expectation is a big trade in a few weeks that will hopefully work out best for the Rangers. Only time will tell if I'm right.

Will the OHL take back top spot in June?

The Ontario Hockey League will look to re-stake its claim as the league producing the number one pick heading into the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting will be looking to join the likes of Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Taylor Hall as former top dogs in their respective draft classes.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins narrowly edged out Gabriel Landeskog last June ending a run by the OHL in which they produced the top pick in the NHL Entry Draft consecutively since 2007. Even more interesting is that since 2005, the OHL has produced at least one of the top two picks in each draft, their best coming in 2008 when seven of the top 10 came from the OHL.

While Yakupov proved to be a dominant player as a rookie in Sarnia last season, he left a lot for fans to get excited about heading into his sophomore campaign. He can dictate the pace of a game and is extremely dangerous whenever he steps on the ice. Yakupov broke the Sting record for most goals in a season with 47, eclipsing none other than Steven Stamkos’ 42 along the way.

There will be a number of other draft eligible players jockeying for position in the OHL this season and as a result, we should be in for some entertaining hockey this winter.

Alex Galchenyuk is Yakupov’s teammate in Sarnia. As rookies last season, they provided a dominating one-two punch for the Sting. Galchenyuk will push Yakupov all season to be the top draft eligible forward. Before draft day rolls around however, do not be surprised when other projected first round forwards like Matia Marcantuoni (Kitchener Rangers) and Andreas Athanasiou (London Knights) break out offensively for their respective teams.

Also in the running for a position in the first round are Scott Laughton (Oshawa Generals), Brendan Gaunce (Belleville Bulls) and Jarrod Maidens (Owen Sound Attack). Each of whom joined Athanasiou and Marcantuoni as part of the gold medal winning Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament. Each player will look to build off of his successes both last year in the OHL and at that tournament moving forward into this season.

From the back-end, Nick Ebert (Windsor Spitfires), Slater Koekkoek (Peterborough Petes) and Cody Ceci (Ottawa 67’s) will push for the top defensive spot in June. At one point, Ebert was one of the top defensive prospects in this draft. He will be looking to regain that spot on the Windsor team that will desperately need him to step up, now that stalwart Ryan Ellis has moved onto pro hockey. Import pick Olli Maatta (London Knights) and Adam Pelech (Erie Otters) will also look to make themselves noticed this year.

Not to be left out are forwards Matthew Campagna (Sudbury Wolves), Gemel Smith (Owen Sound Attack), defenseman Gianluca Curcuruto (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) and goaltender Malcolm Subban (Belleville Bulls), each of whom can thrust themselves, into better positioning at the draft with solid performances this season.

One thing is for sure the road to the 2012 entry draft will be making several stops through Ontario, and coming to an arena near you.

2011/12 OHL Season Preview

It is that time of the year again. Where the great minds here at In The O... attempt to predict the storm that is the Ontario Hockey League. This year will not be easy as there has been lots of movement throughout the league. Players and management alike. Drafted players, recruited players, disgruntled players this off season had it all. And so far the preseason has not disappointed and come tomorrow night. Plymouth and Owen Sound will get it all started this season. Winford further delay let's get these conference predictions on the road


10. Kingston Frontenacs - after years of applying a 'band-aid' to the franchises problems. It looks as though the Fronts will finally go through a proper rebuild and take this season to let the young'ns get some playing time. But they still will not develop a goalie.

9. Peterborough Petes - this team is a year older but it has not improved much. By trading for Mike Morrison and OA Andrew Yogan the Petes have made it look like they are moving in the right direction but hose pieces will not be enough. There are still holes on this team and unfortunately for Peres fans this will be another year just missing the playoffs... Probably on the last day of he season too.

8. Barrie Colts - the addition of Aaron Ekblad has helped this team reduce the future amount of Goals against by 30 instantly. Add in the addition of Yuill, Sutch, Telegin and their new starting goaltender Mathias Neiderberger this team is vastly approved. Another year under the belt for Mark Scheifele and Eric Locke and offensively can be one of the best in the Eastern Conference. Too bad the majority of the Conference also got better.

7. Belleville Bulls - The Bulls will be taking a step in the right direction. They moved their former number 1 goalie, Tyson Teichmann to Erie making Malcolm Subban the bonafide number one goalie. In the same light the Bulls traded away their leading scorer Andy Bathgate wwcoring come from? Belleville is in the same boat as Barrie, a small step forward but the majority of the conference took a leap.

6. Mississauga Majors - The Majors can really go either way this year. After loading up for their OHL Championship & Memorial Cup run, the Majors are now in mini-rebuild mode. There are still some great pieces here and under the new GM/Coach James Boyd's style of play, could be very effective without the likes of Cizikas, DeSousa, Kitsyn and the like. JP Anderson will more than likely return and be the rock in the net. Which will give the Majors a chance every night.

5. Brampton Battalion - maybe it is the youth on the blueline or maybe hoping that the NHL drafted forwards can now break out. But I see that there is more hope in the city of Brampton than most give them credit for. Matej Machovsky still has prove that he could carry the load of being a number one goalie but he does have the ability to steal a game or two.

4. Ottawa 67's - last season the PMT line (Prince, Martindale, Toffoli) was unstoppable. Their secondary scoring... Not so much. Goaltender Petr 'Mrdazzle' Mrazek stood on his head and stole the show every single night. Both he and Martindale may not be back for the 67's this season. In the case of Martindale there are replacements ready to go. But to replace Mrazek... GM/coach Chris Byrne may have to make a trade for a lights out Net minder. If it wasn't for another team in their Division. I would say the 67's are poised to repeat as division champions.

3. Sudbury Wolves - After a slow start to last season the Wolves were able to place 7th and even knock off heavily favored Ottawa in the first round of the playoffs. This is a young team that has a full year under their belts together. Sgarbossa, Kuchin and Leivo will be a force up front while Corrado and McFadden will be putting up the points on the blueline. Johan Mattson will be expected to carry the workload much like Alain Valliquette did last season. And from what I have seen from him in the preseason, that should not be an issue.

2. Oshawa Generals - this was too close to call and will come down to the goaltending. The only knock that can be said about the Oshawa Generals is that Daniel Altahuller for all is potential and accolades he has received recently. Will still be a 17 year old rookie with no OHL experience. That will be the biggest difference. He will be given every chance to succeed but don't expect GM/Coach Chris DePiero to sit by. If he has to get an experienced goalie to help out, he will not hesitate. Thomas, Jenner, Laughton, Lessio, Jensen, Uvira, Andreoff and Labardo will get the job done up front. And the defense lead by Maggio and Valentine will shut them down.

1. Niagara IceDogs - The reason why the IceDogs are rated number one is simply the man in the net. Mark Visentin. This man is the difference between Oshawa and Niagara. The IceDogs can match up player for player with the Generals, Strome, Hamilton, Friesen, Aggozino, Theoret, Jenkins, Bennett. There is a great mix of skill and size up front while the back end can easily jump right in and provide an additional threat.


10. Guelph Storm - The Storm are entering the season without their big 3 of Latta, Beck and Holland. It will be a tough year in Guelph with some young stars who will learn by making mistakes. And that goes for the forwards and the defense. In net there is reliable Brandon Foote who has manned the Storm net for the past couple of seasons. But there is now Garrett Sparks who was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs this past June. Could there be pressure to play Sparks who played all of 19 games in his OHL career?

9. Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds - new GM Kyle Dubas has infused this team with a new attitude and has made quite a few roster moves that will benefit he team moving forward. However, with all the positive moves that Dubas has made he also had to deal Daniel Catenacci within his conference. The team is poised to break out. But it isn't this season. Add in what the rest of the conference has done. And the Soo can make it 3 years in a row missing the playoffs.

8. Windsor Spitfires - As much as Bob Boughner declared that this team will be around the 6th place rank in the West... I don't see that. Granted Jack Campbell and all his pedigree could still carry this team on his back but the loss of Kassian and Ellis may be too much to recover from. There are pieces in place with the likes of Ebert (Ellis V2.0?) and of course the returning Koko, Kuhn and Ryan upfront. But this year will be a Bjorne step back for the Spitfires.

7. Saginaw Spirit - The Spirit loaded up last season and fell short. What they are left with looks pretty good. Include the additions of Steven Strong and Jamie Oleksiak on the back end and the veteran group of forwards. The only question on this team is in the net. Can the combo of Galansky and Paterson get the job done when it counts. We don't think so.

6. Sarnia Sting - It is incredible what having a legitimate GM/Head Coach can do in terms of recruiting power. This Sting team has been transformed, much like the Greyhounds, but the Sting still got to build around Galchenyuk and Yakupov. Definite first rounders in this years NHL draft. Add in the likes of Maxwell in goal to teach Brando Hope. Anthony DeAngelo and Connor Murphy make the jump to the OHL helps this blueline which has struggled to stop the opposition. Reid Boucher and Ludvig Rensfeldt add a new dynamic making this team a three line threat. Is it enough this season? considering goaltenders have to adjust to playing in the OHL. Why wouldn't rookies who left the NCAA also struggle in he beginning? Sarnia makes a leap. But not a giant one.

5. Erie Otters - Much like last season this team will look like an unstoppable juggernaut most nights. And a complete enigma other nights. This year Ramis Sadikov is not expected back and it can be widely agreed that he was a big reason, if not the biggest reason for the Otters success. Greg McKegg isnexected back as is fellow Leafs draft pick Sondre Olden. Throw in Brett Thompson and Mike Cazzola. These veterans will have to help the young forwards grow up fast. The blueline may be young by they have looked good in preseason play. The question mark is whether or not the change of scenery for Tyson Teichmann will help him regain what many expected from him. If TT can not find it early, Chris Festarini will have to shoulder the load and he is as unproven as Teichmann.

4. London Knights - The Knights never rebuild. Just reload. And they loaded up on draft picks last season and got Max Domi in exchange for some of those picks. Not a bad exchange. Their horse Michael Houser will be more focused and determined after being passed up in the NHL draft yet again. With a goalie like him the defense can take more opportunities to help out the forwards and the forwards on turn. Do not have to focused so much on their defensive play. The Knights are back this season. But they are definitely not contending for a championship. But once in the playoffs. knights hockey is tough to beat.

3. Kitchener Rangers - Kitchener is definitely not the same team as last season. In consecutive years the Rangers lose a player that they would beg to have back. Captain Gabriel Landeskog will be sticking with the Avalanche in the NHL which gives an opportunity for someone to step up. Their forwards are not only skilled but can play physical which will work in their favor whole their top 4 on the blueline all have the ability to shut you down and light you up in the same shift. Goaltending is an issue as their new number 1 is an American. Recent history suggests that John Gibson is not the answer. But when you watch him play you can tell that he is definitely better than the previous American goaltenders.

2. Owen Sound Attack - Even without Joey Hishon and Garret Wilson in this seasons lineup, this Attack squad boasts probably the best young talent in the league. All season long you will be hearing the names Smith, Maidens and Brace. To go along with familiar names like Catenacci, Halmo, Childerley and Zweep. The defense will be tough to top but will have to work on protecting their all-star netminder Jordan Binnington. The man who saved their season and got them to the Memorial Cup.

1. Plymouth Whalers - Many people do not want to believe that the Whalers are this tears favorites to represent the OHL in this years Memorial Cup but it is highly possible. Plymouth is undoubtedly the most complete team in the OHL this season. They have the best goaltending in the league with 'Money' Wedgewood and Matt Mahalak. Their D is only missing that offensive defensman to keep the opposition guessing but that by no means there will be no scoring from the blueline. When it conne to their forwards. The Whalers matchup right alongside the Niagara IceDogs and the Oshawa Generals. Bathgate, Noesen, Rakell, Meurs, Aleardi, Mahalak, Heard and Whaley... Maybe even better than their Eastern Conference counterparts.

The great minds at ITO have made it so and declared their 2011/12 OHL predictions. Now only time will tell whether or not you praise our predictions. Or mock ITO for being completely wrong. Either way let the season begin.

Ireland Ready Behind Attack Bench

The Owen Sound Attack ended their .500 exhibition season with a win over their arch rival the Mississauga Majors. Attack coach Greg Ireland was pleased with the 5-2 win, believing it is an indication of the young team’s efforts to become consistent and to display a stronger work ethic. With four regulars off to NHL training camps (Jordan Binnington -St. Louis, Kurtis Gabriel-Phoenix, Daniel Catenacci -Buffalo and Geoffrey Schemitsch-Tampa) the exhibition season was an opportunity for young players to gain some OHL experience and prove to their coach they deserve a spot on the team.

Ireland’s arrival to Owen Sound follows the departure of OHL coach of the year Mark Reeds. Ironically, Reeds is now a partner with his rival from last season, Mississauga Majors and Team Canada coach Dave Cameron. The pair has now entered the NHL as assistant coaches for the Ottawa Senators.

Not daunted by the big shoes left for him to fill, Ireland is confident his past professional experience in the East Coach Hockey League and American Hockey League has prepared him for the competitiveness of the OHL’s Western Conference. While many question if Ireland is up to the pressure of following Reed’s success, Ireland feels his own competitive nature and the pressure he puts on himself will enable him to successfully make a smooth transition to the Attack’s bench.

Just an hour south of Owen Sound down highway #10, the Orangeville native was destined to end up behind the Attack bench. Ireland’s name has been bandied around in many discussions for past coaching vacancies many times in the Attack and its predecessor the Plater’s history. This time around Ireland was chosen over 40 other applicants including former NHL head coaches Cory Clouston (Ottawa) and John Anderson (Atlanta). Ireland is now ready for what he believes will be a competitive season.

Ireland still needs to make some adjustments to the final roster as there is a healthy internal competition. Nine defensemen need to be whittled to seven or eight , there is a tight competition for back- up goalie as well as a player or two up front. Ireland predicts the Attack will be a hard working team that makes it tough for any team to compete against the reigning OHL champions.

The A’s, B’s, and C’s of the Majors

As the OHL regular season nears, I know my curiosity has gotten the better of me…and no one will settle my eagerness with a hint. “C” is for Captain, and I want to know which Major will wear it this year.

If you’re a Majors fan, for the last couple of seasons the next-in-line captain was clear; Jesse Messier, Cameron Gaunce, and Casey Cizikas.

In addition, four of last year’s five alternate captains (Brett Flemming, Rob Flick, Justin Shugg, and Corey Bureau) are gone, so there isn’t an obvious player to step up.

And now there’s a vacancy. Initially, I had my eye on Jordan Mayer. As an overager this year, he has the experience and respect to take on that leadership role. In the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, his first and second full years on the team respectively, he put up good numbers for the squad. Then last year he fell off the charts for a while, but that could be attributed to being on a much more talented team with a lot of depth and dominant players. However, he really stepped up in the playoffs earning 18 points in 20 games. And he had the opportunity to wear the “A” as alternate captain last season.

Devante Smith-Pelly is continuing to turn heads. His skill, strength, intelligence and of course, goal-scoring ability are all reasons why he’s a great fit for the Majors, but also impressive at the Anaheim Ducks camp. He earned 36 goals during the regular season, 15 goals (tied for the OHL lead in goals) and 21 points in 20 games throughout the playoffs, and six points in five Memorial Cup games. I’m sure I could go on, but I’ll leave it at that. With that said, his future with this team is still uncertain.

Then there’s Stuart Percy. He had the opportunity to wear the “C” during exhibition before he left for the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie camp, which means the Majors staff could be looking at him to take the lead. He seems to have the whole package and a lot of people agree. The other thing I like about this choice is that Percy most likely still has a couple of years left on this team and it would be nice to see a captain stick around for a while.

One player that has impressed me so for is Derek Schoenmakers. He spent a number of games as a healthy scratch last season, but left his mark as a player with this team. His overtime goal in Game Four against Sudbury to complete the Majors sweep of the Wolves in April is just one example. He has a lot of emotion, even during exhibition, and he’s a great guy on and off the ice. Embarking on his third year with the team, like Percy, he has potential to be here longer. Not sure if he’s capable of stepping up and being the leader for the Majors, but it’s great to see him take the reins while the top guns are away at NHL rookie camps.

At the end of the day, the choice that seems obvious to us could be completely different from that of the Majors camp. The situation on the Brampton Battalion last season is a perfect example of this. I talked to a lot of people who believed the “C” would go to either Sean Jones, Scott Tanski, even Kyle Pereira. No one I encountered thought Stephon Thorne would be the main man. Captaincy isn’t just about the best player; it’s about being a leader, building chemistry, taking a stand, encouraging his team when they’re down, being a good competitor and representative, and among other things a coaching staff is looking for. Everyone on the Battalion agreed he fit that profile.

Now, I’m going to throw another curve ball…take a breath…all this is relevant if Cizikas doesn’t return. But then you can also bring in the Shugg, Flemming, and Flick factors. If Cizikas returns, he gets his spot back. If he doesn’t, and let’s say Flemming returns, he doesn’t necessarily have the “C” tattooed on his chest, but it wouldn’t be out of the question. Then throw in a dash of OA’s and you complicate things even more. You can mix and match this all day; none of their futures are 100 per cent decided.

But looking at what we have in front of us right now, this is at the very least an idea of what we could see. When it comes to the alternate captains, basically any one of the other guys can fill that role.

To cap it all off, I’ll answer Trevor’s question. Yes, it sure is fun to speculate.

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