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1st Half Team Review: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

With the OHL Christmas Break in full effect it is essentially the halfway mark in the season and a time for reflection. And since it is the spirit of Christmas, lets take a look at each team as ITO lists whether they belong under the category: the good, the bad or the ugly.  

The Ugly

Saginaw Spirit – For a team that loaded up a season ago it would be expected that they take a step back in 2011/12, but with the returning players: Shalla, Saad, Archibald, Walch, McFarland, Trocheck and O’Connor this team sure is disappointing. The beginning of the season has seen the Spirit fail without Brandon Saad in the lineup. With the Chicago Blackhawks draft pick in the lineup the Saginaw Spirit are a tale of two teams: Unstoppable or Hopeless. With that said the last dozen games have seen the Spirit become a better team as they learn to accept the limitations of their roster. Sitting only 3 points out of a playoff spot come the break is very shocking for a team that had the ability to score at will last season (Shalla 47, McFarland 25, Saad 27, Trocheck 26).  

Erie Otters – If I were ranking the worst of the Ugly the Otters would be number one. And this isn’t because they are just dead last in the league. It is because they are dead last in the league with talent on their team. Sondre Olden joined the Otters this year and has been lackluster at best. Even though he has been the best forward on the ice most nights, he would still fail to register on the scoreboard at times. Given that the Otters are still captained by Greg McKegg with Ramis ‘Russian Workhorse’ Sadikov between the pipes, you would think the Otters would be at least 8th in the west fighting off the teams for the last spot. Nope, the Otters are just trying to score goals. Injuries have depleted their lineup to some key guys but in their absence, the roster players at times have looked uninspired and unmotivated. Is this because of the coach or the situation? Either way the Otters season cannot get worse.  

Oshawa Generals – I am sure this will get me some flack but in all honesty for a team boasting 3 returning NHL Draft picks from this past Junes draft, plus the return of: Christian Thomas (54 goals last season), Andy Andreoff, Scott Valentine and Daniel Maggio, this team had the makings of a contender. The only thing missing was a goaltender after the Gens decided Zador/Baille combination could not get it done. This season the team went into the season with Baille and… an unproven, but highly touted NHL Draft Eligible Daniel Altshuller. Despite being one of the higher scoring teams in the Eastern Conference the two netminders have failed to keep them out of the back of the net which has resulted in the Generals being called ‘ugly’  

Owen Sound Attack – The only reason I think I can justify the Attack as being in this section is two things. The team leader in goals, points and penalty minutes is Captain Mike Halmo, and the goaltending situation. Last year in the Memorial Cup the ‘Coach of the Year” Mark Reeds completely messed up his chances at winning the title by sitting his hot goaltender Jordan Binnington in favour of a ‘gut’ feeling that he couldn’t get the job done. Scott Stajcer didn’t get the job done but I guess it doesn’t matter since he graduated to the NHL bench. This year Binnington was the unquestionable starter at the beginning of the season. A rocky less than starter like performance, mixed in with Stajcer being sent back to the OHL by the New York Rangers has left Binnington fighting for ice time again… this time neither goalie is good. As for Halmo being the offensive leader on the team…  Dale DeGray did trade for Dan Catenacci who hasn’t been amazing, but hasn’t been a dud. Catenacci sits second on the team in goals and scoring but is only a +2, something that he needs to improve on for the Attack to have any type of chance at being consistent.  

The Bad

Windsor Spitfires – this is a team that can be a coin toss to whether they should be ‘bad’ or ‘ugly’ the deciding factor is the fact that the Spitfires front office decided to take a pass and build for a potential 2014 Memorial Cup Host date and are currently loading up on talent. Some key pieces were dealt and what has remained has done a decent job considering the toughness of the Western Conference. Currently sitting tied for 7th in the West gets them a bad rating in the ITO books.  

Kingston Frontenacs – tough to say whether it is because the team is always up and down each year or just doomed from the start but this is what was expected from the franchise. The refusal to raise a goalie of their own, picking up pieces from other teams that would otherwise been cut, it is just not a ‘stable’ franchise. The Fronts are doing some good like the ‘trading’ of Ryan Spooner for a lot of assets and bringing along other positional players in their system like Warren Steele. Kingston would be instantly upgraded to the ‘good’ column if they can find their way to a playoff spot.  

Mississauga Majors - The sole reason the Majors fall under the bad category is because of their white-hot start that nobody saw coming. It’s true. Even some of the minds at ITO did not predict that. What was predicted for the Majors is that they would crash down hard and sit near the bottom of the conference hovering around the 6, 7, and 8 seed. Riley Brace is the meager bright light, as he has had to carry a lot of the offensive load while other returning players from last seasons Memorial Cup run have faltered, JP Anderson. They were who they thought we were but a little bit worse really…   

Guelph Storm – I wanted to put Guelph in the ‘ugly’ pile but I cannot. This is the first time in many years they have been without their trio of Beck, Holland and Latta. Those three carried so much weight on the ice and in the dressing room it is strange to think what the team would do without them… now we know. The forwards and the D have been growing as the season has gone on and although I wouldn’t say they have ALL been improving there are definitely some pluses. The minuses come from the goaltending where it is still a team of two goalies who are struggling to be average. Sparks and Foote have not set the world on fire and as soon as one goes on a run, they come crashing down and is replaced by another.  

Peterborough Petes – Much like the Majors the Petes started with a head of steam and have fizzled somewhat but not falling to the bottom of the Division like Mississauga has. With a healthy team the Petes can shock and awe some teams but have recently been decimated by injuries. Even though there are not name brand talent outside of Matt Puempel and Austin Watson (maybe Andrew Yogan), a solid collection of veterans and rookies have made this team something to watch but lack of consistency brings them down to the ‘bad’  

Niagara IceDogs – They were ranked 2nd in the nation prior to the puck drop for the 11/12 season and have stunk up the joint since. Despite going 7-2-0-1 in their last 10, the IceDogs have not been a dominant force you would expect with 3 solid OA forwards, 3 first round NHL draft picks in their lineup and now 4 players representing Team Canada… all the talent and they had to climb from the basement makes these Dogs… bad.  

Sudbury Wolves – The 11/12 campaign started like the 10/11 season did. Poorly and leading to a lot of catching up to do in the Eastern Conference. I personally expected much better from the Wolves but again, like last year they came on strong and that includes their offensive talent stepping up lately, while their D and goaltending have been above expectations. If the Wolves were ahead of the IceDogs at this point (behind NIA by 5 pts) then they would be ‘Good’ but the slow start has hurt them and will be a tough climb given the ‘good’ teams in the East so far.  

The Good

Soo Greyhounds – No one expected anything from this team which has played to their advantage. The Greyhounds came out and played very consistent hockey resulting in a few more W’s than expected and then the wheel’s fell off their wagon. They are not near the top of the conference or division (trailing division leader by 9 pts) but have been better than all have predicted.  

Sarnia Sting – Much like the Soo, there was a complete overhaul of talent on this roster and rightfully so it worked out for the new GM in Sarnia. After pulling in some players who had no intention of coming into the OHL before, GM Beaulieu immediately added ‘respectability’ to the franchise. He was able to add to the talented core of Yakupov, Galchenyuk, Hottot and Ritchie to name a few. Injuries have curbed what could have been a completely dominant team but the team has persevered regardless. The one knock if there is one, goaltending. But there is no shame in playing a 8-5 game every night as long as you have the horses to give you the 2 points.

Plymouth Whalers – The Whalers looked like a team that would be on the verge of complete dominance or continue to flounder in the middle of the conference. With a goaltending duo almost second to none the Whalers have dominated. Addition of J.T. Miller and the return of Jamie Devane has created an immense offensive depth that may not be matched in the league. From the forwards to the defence to the dynamic goaltending duo there may be zero holes on this team.  

Kitchener Rangers – For a team that does not know whether it should go for it or pull back, Kitchener has been able to overcome key injuries with timely goaltending. Whether it is the ‘starter’ John Gibson or Kingston Flop Frank Palazesse the Rangers roster have been able to pull out the W’s when an L is in order. Nothing new right? Captain Michael Catenacci has been able to pull in this ‘offensively challenged’ team (by comparison to previous years) and have helped play the systems to a tee. When the injured return and maybe Matia Marcantuoni figures out his game they can make a solid run in the second half.  

London Knights – It is odd to think that every year this team cannot be dangerous can they? Well they can and they are. This year’s crop… it must be something in the kool-aid. Michael Houser was the hottest thing at the beginning of the year and although the shots and minutes have taken him down a bit he is still an elite goaltender in the OHL who is probably the number one reason for the Knights successes. Not only is it the amount of saves he is asked to make, it is the key, game changing moment saves he makes on a regular basis to foil the oppositions comeback plans.  
Belleville Bulls – I mentioned earlier that no one predicted the start to the Majors season and I can safely say that no one predicted the Bulls near the top of the conference come the end of the first half. There was potential on this team that could have them fighting every night but the play of the team as a whole has been unbelievable. From the back end to the front, Burnett actually has the team playing a solid TEAM game where no matter how hard they try the fans cannot even Boo Burnett as long as the Bulls are near the top.  

Ottawa 67’s – this seems like a no brainer as the team did not lose any real talent from the previous year minus Ryan Martindale. In Martindale’s absence, Sean Monahan has stepped right in and kept the PMT line in tact. Although, Petr Mrazek is not at the top of his game so far this year he has won the games the 67’s are suppose to win and have stolen games they have no chance being in.  

Barrie Colts – From the basement almost to the penthouse. That is the OHL for you and these are your Barrie Colts. The return of Mark Schiefele has been great for this team but you can not ignore the other parts picked up in the off season: Reid McNeill, Ivan Telegin, Greg Sutch and Mathias Neiderberger have helped make this team into legitimate contenders.  

Brampton Battalion – Not only are the Troops in the good column for their solid play so far… they have surprised almost all by sitting on top of their division one point out of the conference lead. With Stan Butler defence is king and the Battalion’s starting 6 cannot be matched. They are not the fastest or the best offensively but Butler has the right parts in place to keep the chances low and just capitalize on opposition’s mistakes. It isn’t the prettiest of hockey games when Brampton is in town, but a W is a W and they have enough to give them 2nd seed in the East. 

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