Last Friday the puck dropped on the Ontario Junior A Hockey League’s (OJHL) 2011-12 season.
In the 27-team OJHL, Toronto is home to four clubs that are all located in the South Division.
Predictably, the four teams are intense division rivals, with the St. Michael’s Buzzers, Toronto Lakeshore Patriots, Toronto Canadiens and North York Rangers featuring some of the most talented young hockey players in the city.
St. Michael’s Buzzers
The Buzzers have swarmed their opponents to start the season.
Winning 4-2 over Toronto Lakeshore, crushing Pickering 8-2 and topping Mississauga 7-4, St. Michael’s offence seems to be a force.
Pleased with 19 goals in three wins to open the campaign, Rich Ricci, the Buzzers head coach and general manager, knows that a strong offence is not all there is to building a successful team.
“The team is built on speed, skill and size,” said Ricci via email to the Toronto Observer. “I believe we will score goals. But defence and wins… my concern is there first.”
Building on last season’s post-Christmas success, which helped St. Mike’s to a 27-21-2 fifth-place rank in the division, the Buzzers have hit the ground running thanks to a roster of experienced players returning to carry the team.
“I expect that our veteran players will be significant contributors this year,” said Ricci. “This includes Daniel Milne, Mike Neville, Mark Cooper, Anthony Rizzo, Taylor Clements and Tommy Sumi. Adrian Ignagni will carry the load in goal.”
Cooper is second in league scoring with seven points in three games. Milne, Neville and Rizzo each have five points, while Clements and Sumi have chipped in with four each.
Ignani paces all goaltenders with three wins, and has the second best save percentage in the league with .932.
The Buzzers hope to continue their offensive onslaught when they take the ice at St. Michael’s College Arena against Vaughn on Friday night (7:30 p.m. ET).
Toronto Lakeshore Patriots
Formerly known as the Upper Canada Patriots, the Patriots were 28-20-2 last year, good enough for fourth in the division to earn a trip to the playoffs.
Toronto battled past the Lindsay Muskies in its best-of-three, first-round series before being swept out of the post-season by the Wellington Dukes in Round 2.
Dropping a pair of games to open the season, 4-2 against St. Michael’s and 6-3 to Vaughn, the Patriots know where they’ve gone wrong thus far.
“Mostly discipline, we’ve taken a few bad penalties, and defensively we’ve been very weak,” Mike Tarantino, head coach and general manager of the Patriots, told the Observer via a phone interview. “We’ve only been on the offensive side of the puck looking to score.”
In 2010-11, veteran forward Nick Peruccio led the offence with 25 goals and 40 assists for 65 points, but has been held without a point in his first two games.
“I expect Nick to be a scoring threat every game,” said Tarantino. “More importantly, I expect him to be a complete player and to compete every time he’s on the ice.”
Second-year Patriot Matt Silcoff is leading all Lakeshore scorers with two goals and an assist. He’s also tied in points with sophomore teammate Joseph Benvenuto, who has three assists as a defenceman.
The Patriots will try to hold their composure in their home opener Friday night (8 p.m. ET) when they face the Toronto Canadiens at the Mastercard Centre for Hockey Excellence.
The Canadiens ended the 2010-11 campaign with a disappointing 16-30-4 record, finishing sixth in the division and missing the playoffs.
Beginning this season on the road with a 3-2 shootout win over Pickering Friday night, the Canadiens have started their year off on the right foot.
Toronto General Manager Frank Morris is expecting significant improvement for his club moving forward.
“A successful season would mean for us to finish first or second in our division,” said Morris over the phone to the Observer.
Morris expects big things from some of his young Canadiens, specifically forwards Stephen Pietroban and Connor Prudames. Defencemen Daniel Lombardi and Robert Powers have also caught his attention.
Pietroban and Powers are rookies, while Prudames and Lobardi are second-year players. Scoring in his first game Pietroban has already begun to fulfill his expectations.
The young Toronto team is itching to win its home opener this Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET) against the North York Rangers at Chesswood Arenas in North York.
North York Rangers
The Rangers were the most successful OJHL team in Toronto last season, finishing the year 28-19-3. North York finished third in the division and coasted into the playoffs.
However, Vaughn swept the Rangers out of the first round of the post-season, and the start to this year continues to be disappointing for the club. North York has lost its first two games in a weekend set against Mississauga.
Both losses were high scoring, 7-6 and 8-5, suggesting that the Rangers offence is fine but the defence could use some work.
“We’re not thinking about that too, too much,” said Rangers General Manager Claude Desjardins in a phone interview with the Observer. “It’s not that it’s a problem, its just a lot of new players trying to play with each other and [getting] to know each other, and that takes time.”
With last year’s top scorer, forward Jacob Mooney, no longer with the team, the Rangers will be looking for somebody else to step in.
So far Chris Aitcheson and Luke Colavecchia have filled the role nicely, each netting three goals and an assist through two games. Ernesto Valente has also been doing his part in creating offence, scoring once and setting up three markers.
“Obviously our offence is doing their work,” said Desjardins. “So that’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
The Rangers look to solve their defensive problems while continuing their offensive output in the next game against the Toronto Canadiens on Saturday.