Expectations high as Majors host Memorial Cup

[audio:http://www.torontoobserver.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/chris_missmajors_podcast.mp3|titles=chris_missmajors_podcast]A mere three years ago, the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors were the cellar dwellers of the Ontario Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.

Boasting a conference-high 325 goals against at the end of the 2006-2007 season, you would be hard pressed to find a member of the Majors who thought they would be atop the national rankings just three years later.

Sure enough, the Canadian Hockey League’s pre-season rankings place the Majors at number one, providing them with some much-needed confidence heading into the new schedule.

Expectations are as high as they’ve been in recent memory for fans in Mississauga and they’ll be expecting their team to be able to hold their place atop the rankings as they are set to host the 2011 Memorial Cup.

The honour guarantees them a chance to compete for junior hockey’s top prize against the best teams from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League,  Western Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League.

Smith-Pelly pegged as Major-General

Last season’s points leader Devante Smith-Pelly, in his third season with the Majors, will be looked upon to lead the offence on their quest to the Memorial Cup.

Smith-Pelly, a left winger, has grown to a sizeable 211 pounds during the off-season and the 18-year-old is already impressing NHL brass with his size and skill.

The Scarborough native was chosen in the second round, 42nd overall in the 2010 draft by the Anaheim Ducks and is already envisioning his future place in their lineup.

“I looked and saw their top-six forwards were pretty much set with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan,” Smith-Pelly told the Los Angeles Times from the Ducks’ rookie camp.

“But it looked like they were trying to get some bottom six guys with some grit, and I fit in.”

Not easy being Number One

Mississauga is the only team in the OHL’s Eastern Conference named to the pre-season top 10 overall rankings.

The Majors’ most compelling matches will come against Western Conference opponents, the Kitchener Rangers and London Knights, who are the only other OHL teams listed in the top 10, ranked Nos. 4 and 5 respectively.

Being in a different conference from the other contenders in the league can only do good things to the Majors’ record. Mississauga plays only two games each against the Rangers and Knights and in a 68-game regular season, less games against top teams could lead to more wins.

2010 draft class key for Majors

Smith-Pelly is not the only NHL-drafted player looking to have a banner year with the Majors.

Centres Rob Flick and Gregg Sutch were chosen 120th and 143rd overall and will both be looked upon to provide offence as well as a physical presence.

Flick led the Majors with 157 penalty minutes last season and still contributed offensively with 15 goals in 65 games.

His 15 fighting majors are among league leaders from last year and he’ll be looked upon to play with an edge again this season.

Sutch’s style of play is more defensive-minded, as the Newmarket native chipped in with only 8 points in 43 games and added 55 penalty minutes of his own.