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Great Expectations in Niagara

Even as the Niagara Ice Dogs were eliminated from the OHL Eastern Conference finals last spring, the buzz began. As the summer went on the buzz became louder. The 2011-12 OHL season might just be “the one” for the Ice Dogs. When the CHL announced last Wednesday the Niagara Ice Dogs were ranked number two in Canada the buzz became an explosion. Ice Dog fans have even begun to speak the words “Memorial Cup” - in September.
The pressure is on.
While expectations for this season’s team are high, Coach Marty Williamson is trying to keep the team contained. He states the ranking is “a compliment to the players, but rankings don’t mean a lot when you haven’t won a league game yet. Our guys know that when you are ranked number two you are going to have to prove yourself every night. We’re not talking about Memorial Cup we’re talking about winning the first game of the season.”
Team Captain Andrew Agozzino also acknowledges it is “neat to see” the number two ranking, but later in the year “no one looks back at the rankings in September -there’s a lot more to be done.”
And there is much work to do for the Ice Dogs following a 3-3 tie Thursday night in exhibition play against the Oshawa Generals. Coach Williamson acknowledges there was lackluster play at times with not a “lot going on” with the specialty teams. Agozzino was impressed with the work ethic of new comer Carter Verhaeghe while Williamson noted McGrath did a good job in net for the second half of the game. The rookies will need to be more comfortable with the systems and focus on where to be on the ice. With eleven regulars out of the line up it was an opportunity for younger players to show off their stuff and try to make a spot on a team with limited openings.
Williamson wishes those at NHL training camps well but obviously he hopes they all return to Niagara. “Dougie Hamilton at Boston and Ryan Strome with the Islanders and Friesen with Vancouver and Pacan in Florida, those are the guys that will determine if this is a good team or a great team or a team that might have to do some different things - acquire a player or two. If we get them all back we sure like this team an awful lot. It’s got good chemistry, we can score, we play hard defense it’s a good carry over team from last year.”
With 2113 in attendance at an exhibition game with the marquis players missing, you can feel in the air the high hope fans have for the Ice Dog this season. With the season opener on September 22nd we will soon find out if the pressure is going to be the team’s number one nemesis.

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