The 2017-18 OHL season is just days away as pre-season play wrapped up on Sunday. There were winners and there were losers, but everyone knows there’s only so much you can extrapolate from exhibition games.
With teams missing players to NHL camps, new talent was given an opportunity to show coaches and management across the league what they’re capable of as final roster decisions are being made ahead of opening night.
A number of veterans stepped into the limelight over the past few weeks and a few teams may be giving us a taste of what’s to come. Here’s a brief synopsis of pre-season play as we highlight a few of the league’s top performers.
ATTACK RED HOT OUT OF THE GATE
The Owen Sound Attack were the OHL’s lone undefeated team in pre-season play, finishing with a perfect 5-0-0 record with a 6-5 victory over the North Bay Battalion on Sunday. The Bears reached the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2011 last spring on the heels of a franchise-best regular season. Owen Sound outscored opponents 25-12 under new head coach Todd Gill in exhibition play, getting big-time contributions from recently acquired winger Alan Lyszczarczyk, overage centreman Ethan Szypula and 19-year-old defenceman Sean Durzi. Lyszczarczyk (4-5–9) and Szypula (3-6–9) finished tied for the OHL’s pre-season scoring lead with nine points each while Durzi (2-6–8) led all defenders with eight. Overage goaltender Zack Bowman went 3-0-0 in his return from an injury-shortened 2016-17 campaign in Sudbury. The Attack open the season at home to Flint on Saturday night.
NEW COLTS BRING EXCITEMENT TO LINEUP
The Barrie Colts know there’s nowhere to go but up in 2017-18, and got off on the right foot with a 3-2-1 record in pre-season play. Barrie scored 19 goals over six contests with veteran winger Lucas Chiodo (4-5–9) finishing tied for the league scoring lead with nine points. Russian rookie and top 2018 NHL Draft prospect Andrei Svechnikov gave fans an idea of what they can expect from him this season, registering points in four of five contests with a two-goal performance in Sunday’s 6-3 win over Hamilton. The Colts have shored up their goaltending situation with the addition of overager Leo Lazarev from the Ottawa 67’s. The athletic Russian netminder made 32 saves in Sunday’s victory. Not to be overlooked, 2017 first overall OHL Priority Selection choice Ryan Suzuki recorded six points (1-5–6) in as many games.
WOLVES PACK OFFENSIVE PUNCH
The Sudbury Wolves filled the net this past weekend, scoring a pair of victories against their northern rival the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Overage addition Kyle Rhodes revealed an oft-overlooked offensive dimension to his game with six points (3-3–6) over three contests while 2018 NHL Draft prospect David Levin was in fine form, scoring twice while adding three assists in Sunday’s 8-4 win over the Hounds. Rookie winger Dawson Baker, a fourth round pick in 2016, put up four points (3-1–4) over three games. With 30-goal scorer Macauley Carson (San Jose Sharks) and Russian sniper Dmitry Sokolov (Minnesota Wild) returned from NHL camps, the Wolves will be at full strength when they open their season at home to the Oshawa Generals on Friday.
DEFENDING MASTERCARD MEMORIAL CUP CHAMPS CONTINUE WINNING WAYS
Despite sporting a vastly different roster from their championship effort last spring, the Windsor Spitfires found ways to win in the pre-season, going 4-1-0. Former QMJHL players Igor Larionov Jr., Jake Smith and Joseph Mizzi all played a part in the success while returning veteran and recently named captain Aaron Luchuk put up four points (3-1–4) in two games. It will be interesting to see how the Spitfires, who experienced heavy offseason graduation, fill out their lineup card in their home opener on Thursday against Saginaw.
KIRWIN STEPS UP FOR STORM
It’s little secret that the Guelph Storm have had a competitive pre-season with a number of players battling over opening night roster spots. Sophomore winger Barret Kirwin certainly established himself, scoring five goals in as many games to lead the Storm in the goal-scoring department. After two straight seasons outside of the playoffs, newly appointed head coach and GM George Burnett has some difficult roster decisions to make as the Storm aim to be a tough two points in the Midwest Division. Star blueliner Ryan Merkley (2-4–6) and veteran captain Garrett McFadden (1-5–6) tied for the team scoring lead with six points each while sophomore netminder Anthony Popovich performed well with a 2-0 record, a 2.80 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage.
STEELHEADS’ INGHAM GEARS UP FOR BIG SEASON
Considered a top goaltending prospect for the 2018 NHL Draft, Mississauga Steelheads netminder Jacob Ingham turned in a solid pre-season. The 17-year-old led the league with a 1.71 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage, going 1-0-1 over parts of three games. The Steelheads played to a 2-0-2 record, doing so with veteran captain Michael McLeod (New Jersey Devils) away at NHL camp. The Trout are expected to compete atop the Eastern Conference this season, but if stars McLeod and Owen Tippett (Florida Panthers) get an extended look from NHL clubs, Ingham’s contributions will be a big asset out of the gate.
NEW FACES MAKE PRE-SEASON IMPACT
In addition to the aformentioned Svechnikov and Suzuki in Barrie, a host of other new names found the scoresheet frequently including Flint Firebirds 2017 first round selection Ethan Keppen who tallied up five points (3-2–5) in five games, QMJHL addition Igor Larionov Jr. of the Windsor Spitfires (3-2–5), Sarnia Sting Swedish CHL Import Draft pick Hugo Leufvenius (2-3–5), Owen Sound Attack first rounder Mitchell Russell (3-1–4) and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds rookie Zack Trott (3-1–4).
A MEASURE OF SUCCESS FOR EVERY TEAM
With every team having played at least two games, all 20 of the OHL’s clubs earned at least one victory during exhibition play. The Niagara IceDogs and Flint Firebirds both turned around disappointing results with big victories this past weekend as the Dogs defeated the Kitchener Rangers 5-2 on the road and the Firebirds reversed a 6-1 loss on Saturday with a big 9-2 triumph over the rival Saginaw Spirit on Sunday.
The 2017-18 OHL season gets underway with #OHLOpeningWeek beginning Thursday night as the Peterborough Petes host the defending OHL champion Erie Otters, the Saginaw Spirit visit the defending Mastercard Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires and the Barrie Colts play host to the Ottawa 67’s.