With the beginning of another major junior hockey season just a week away, let’s take a look at the status of the teams in the Ontario Hockey League.
The favourites to win the Eastern Conference are the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, who, as hosts, already possess one of the four spots available for the Memorial Cup.
Will another team from the East be able to conquer the Majors and possibly represent the OHL?
2009-10 Record: 57-9-0-2 (116 points, 1st in Eastern Conference)
The Barrie Colts will be in tough to replicate last season’s 57 wins after losing their three leading scorers.
Gone are the combined 136 goals registered by Luke Pither, Alex Hutchings and Bryan Cameron, who have graduated from junior hockey.
Barrie hopes that Alexander Burmistrov, chosen eighth overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in June’s draft, can improve on his 22 goals and 65 points in order to make up for the lost offence.
Centre Steven Beyers, acquired by the Colts in a trade with Sudbury, had 26 goals and 54 points in 50 games between two injury-filled seasons with the Orangeville Crushers.
“We are quite excited to get him,” Dale Hawerchuk, the Colts’ head coach and director of hockey operations, told the Barrie Examiner. “He’s a dynamic forward and has great offensive skill.”
Although this edition of the Colts will be much younger, Barrie will still benefit from experience in goal. Overage goaltender Peter Di Salvo will between the pipes for Barrie again this season.
The Oakville native played in 50 games for the Colts last season, garnering 38 wins with a 2.74 goals against average and a save percentage of .915.
2009-10 Record: 25-29-7-7 (64 points, 5th in Eastern Conference)
Toronto Maple Leaf 2010 draft pick Sam Carrick will be asked to add more offence in the upcoming season for the Battalion, who only mustered 167 goals last year.
Carrick was one of 63 players invited to Leafs’ training camp, but should be returned to the Battalion early on in the season.
The Markham native, along with Sean Jones, were the two leading scorers for Brampton last year and with both returning this season, the Battalion should easily improve on their 25-win performance in the last campaign.
Brampton allowed only 181 goals last season, but the Battalion will be in tough to keep that statistic down this year with a young defence and an import goaltender.
There are only two defencemen on the roster that have turned 18 (Kyle Pereira and Cameron Wind), but Brampton head coach Stan Butler has been pleased with the group’s development.
“I’m pretty happy with our young defencemen,” Butler told the Brampton Gaurdian. “They’re young but talented. They can move the puck. They’re not necessarily excitable but they are cerebral.”
Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors
2009-10 Record: 42-20-4-2 (90 points, 3rd in Eastern Conference)
The hosts of the 2011 Memorial Cup have high expectations for the new OHL season, after an impressive 42-win year.
Most of the cast of characters from last season’s Majors are returning for this season, and the organization is expected to make any changes to the roster necessary throughout the year to ensure that the team will not look out of place during the Memorial Cup.
The Majors acquired Kerby Rychel, 2010 first round pick of the Barrie Colts, in a pre-season trade. Rychel, son of ex-NHLer and Windsor Spitfires GM Warren Rychel, refused to report to Colts’ training camp because he wanted to engineer a move to play for his father.
It is expected that the Majors will use Rychel as a bargaining chip for a later trade with Windsor in hopes that they will be able to acquire a veteran from the 2010 Memorial Cup champions.
Mississauga made two major trades ahead of camp, acquiring goaltender Anthony Peters from the Belleville Bulls, and adding Windsor sniper Justin Shugg and blueliner Marc Cantin.
Shugg had 39 goals and 79 points for the Spitfires last season, and will help bolster the offence that already boasts returning players Devante Smith-Pelly, Casey Cizikas and Jordan Mayer.
2009-10 Record: 26-34-2-6 (60 points, 7th in Eastern Conference)
After a 26-win season in 2009-10, there was a lot of change off the ice for the Niagara IceDogs in the summer.
The team let go general manager Dave Brown and head coach Mike McCourt, and brought in former Barrie bench boss Marty Williamson to fill both roles.
Also added to the coaching staff was Mike Van Ryn, a former Maple Leaf who retired this summer.
Any improvement on the ice will have to come within, however, as much of the roster is filled with returning players.
Back are leading scorers Andrew Agozzino (66 points), Alex Friesen (60) and Freddie Hamilton (55).
Friesen, a two-way centre who developed his scoring touch a year ago, will be expected to lead the forward group this season.
“This game and this level should be pretty easy for him and that will allow him to be a better leader,” Williamson told QMI Agency. “When you get mature, things just come a little easier for you. It’s just a process.”
Niagara will look for improvement from defenceman Dougie Hamilton, who was pegged as the eighth-best prospect in TSN’s Pre-Season Top 10 NHL Prospects rankings.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be honest,” Hamilton said on the team’s website. “I saw it on twitter and wasn’t really sure wat it was but, I looked into it and I’m pretty happy going into the season with people watching me and being ranked highly.
2009-10 Record: 26-35-4-3 (59 points, 8th in Eastern Conference)
After finishing in the basement of the Central Division, the Wolves also went through a transition in the front office.
Former GM and head coach Mike Foligno resigned to take an assistant coach position with the Anaheim Ducks. Blaine Smith, the team’s former marketing director, was hired as the new manager, while Trent Cull is now behind the bench.
The players have noticed a change in coaching philosophy during camp.
“He doesn’t seem to be as intimidating as coach Mike was,” goalie Alain Valiquette told the Sudbury Star. “He even joined the workout with us Monday and he jokes around with the guys a bit, whereas coach Foligno was all business.”
The changes off the ice are not expected to bring more success on it this season, however.
Most of the transactions completed by the new GM in the summer were designed to acquire draft picks and younger players in hopes of turning the team around in the future.
Sudbury will rely heavily on veteran forwards John McFarland and Marcus Foligno to remain competitive in the season.
2009-10 record: 20-40-2-6 (48 points, 10th in Eastern Conference)
The Belleville Bulls will celebrate their 30th anniversary this season, and they hope the team fares much better than the group of 2009-10.
Accumulating only 48 points, the Bulls finished dead last in the Eastern Conference last season.
Belleville did have cause for celebration over the summer, as four members of the organization were a part of Team Canada’s gold medal win at the Under-18 tournament in Slovakia.
Goaltender Tyson Teichmann backstopped Canada, going 4-0 with a 2.00 goals against average and .922 save percentage.
Bulls GM and head coach George Burnett was behind the bench for Canada, while forwards Austen Brassard and Michael Curtis were also members of the squad.
Big things are expected from Teichmann this season, as Belleville traded overage goaltender Anthony Peters to the Majors heading into camp.
A Belleville native, the goaltender struggled in his rookie year as a 16-year-old, with a 4.29 goals against average and .875 save percentage.
“It was a difficult situation for Tyson last year, being a hometown boy and being drafted in the first round,” Burnett told The Intelligencer.
“He’s going to benefit from his experience of last year. He played in 30 games which is quite unique for a 16-year old.
Offensively, the Bulls will be counting on captain Luke Judson. The right winger scored 29 goals last season in his third year with the Bulls.
2009-10 Record: 33-30-2-3 (71 points, 4th in Eastern Conference)
Goaltending should not be an issue for the Kingston Frontenacs after the club acquired Phillipp Grubauer from the Windsor Spitfires.
The German-born goalie was the big offseason move by the Frontenacs, who will look for success in the post season in 2010-11.
Grubauer was solid for the Spitfires, leading the team to a Memorial Cup championship, and looks to carry over that success to his new team.
“The whole M Cup run, the OHL championship was a great experience,” the 18-year-old told QMI Agency. “It’s my third year [in the OHL]. I hope I can continue where I left off. I want to help Kingston to an OHL championship this year.”
Offensively, Kingston will be led by their two leading scorers from the previous season, Nathan Moon and Ethan Werek. Moon had 27 goals and 69 points last season, while Werek added 30 goals and 60 points.
On defence, Taylor Doherty’s 16 goals from the backend are back, but the big question is the status of Erik Gudbranson.
The 6-4 defenceman was selected third overall by the Florida Panthers in June, and could be a candidate to make their roster out of training camp.
If Florida decides to send the 18-year-old back to junior, he would make a huge impact on the Frontenacs defence.
2009-10 Record: 24-39-3-2 (53 points, 9th in Eastern Conference)
Fans of the Maple Leafs who remember Steve Thomas’ offensive exploits on the wing of Mats Sundin between 1998-2001 are not surprised to see his son, Christian, succeed with the Oshawa Generals.
In a breakout 2009-10 season, the younger Thomas scored a team-high 41 goals for the Generals, and was drafted in the second round of the NHL draft by the New York Rangers.
Added to the forward corps was Lucas Lessio, who finally decided to join the Generals after previously stating his intention to take the NCAA route.
Last season, Lessio scored 30 goals and 72 points for the St. Michael’s Buzzers of the CCHL, and he and new Generals teammate Boone Jenner represented Canada at this summer’s Under-18 tournament.
In order to climb the Eastern Conference standings this season, Oshawa will need to cut down its 299 goals against from the previous campaign.
On the blue-line, the Generals will likely have New York Islanders prospect Calvin de Haan back, along with veteran Tony DeHart, who had 10 goals and 50 points a season ago.
The biggest question mark for Oshawa will be between the pipes, as the tandem of Michael Zador and Kevin Bailie each had a goals against average over four last season.
2009-10 Record: 37-23-5-3 (82 points, 2nd in Eastern Conference)
The defending East Division champions are a strong bet to repeat their title, as the Ottawa 67’s have a strong group of returning players.
Last season’s leading scorer, Cody Lindsay (39 goals, 82 assists), is back to lead the offence, as well as wingers Tyler Toffoli and Thomas Nesbitt and centre Ryan Martindale.
At the goaltender position, the reliable tandem of Chris Perugini and Petr Mrazek are returnings, although the trade of one to add depth at another position is possible.
The biggest hole on the 67’s roster may be on defence, as Ottawa will miss the services of former captain Jason Demers and Tyler Cuma.
Veterans Marc Zanetti and Travis Gibbons will be left to anchor the inexperienced blue-line, but a move to bolster the defence may be necessary if the 67’s are destined for a long playoff run in 2011.
2009-10 Record: 29-35-1-3 (62 points, 6th in Eastern Conference)
It was an offseason of change in Peterborough, as former NHLer and TSN hockey analyst Dave Reid was named to the general manager position.
Mike Pelino was brought in as the new head coach, and he was quick to instill a different attitude in the locker room.
“Our expectation is to win,” Pelino told the Peterborough Examiner. “We’re going to be addressing that every day in our commitment and dedication. We believe there is not going to be a team which will outwork us.”
While it is unclear whether or not a winning attitude will be enough for the Petes to improve on their 29-win campaign a year ago, fans will be able to follow the progress of top NHL prospect Matt Puempel.
The Windsor native won the OHL’s rookie of the year award last season, finishing second in Petes’ scoring with 33 goals and 64 points.
Puempel was placed seventh in TSN’s preseason Top 10 NHL Prospects, and will look to continue to rack up points in 2010-11 to climb that list by the draft in June.
For a look at the Western Conference, click here.