They travel more miles than any other OHL team, but the Soo Greyhounds are a force in the Western Conference once again, due in large part to an OHL-best 13-2-0-0 record on the road this season.
The Greyhounds enter a Thursday night matchup in Niagara on a nine game winning streak, leading the West Division with a 20-7-1-0 record.
Coached by Greyhounds graduate and former NHL defenceman Drew Bannister, the Hounds are getting big contributions from overage veterans Bobby MacIntyre and David Miller, while highly touted NHL prospects in Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Boris Katchouk and Boston Bruins first round pick Zach Senyshyn have been steady producers.
“If you had told me back in September that we’d be where we are without a point from Blake Speers this season, I’m not sure what I would have thought,” said Hounds general manager Kyle Raftis. “Blake’s injury has opened the door for other guys like Morgan Frost, Tim Gettinger, Otto Makinen and Hayden Verbeek to play in elevated roles and make an impact.”
Speers, who played in three games with the New Jersey Devils to start the season, suffered a broken wrist in his return to the Hounds lineup on October 27th in Windsor. The Soo native and Greyhounds’ captain has been invited to Canada’s National Junior Team Selection Camp set for December 10-14 in Blainville, Que.
With big names throughout, Sault Ste. Marie’s offence was projected to be a force this season, but a blue line consisting of a few lesser-knowns has exceeded expectations for the Greyhounds, vaulting them up the standings.
“I think we’ve always been confident in this group,” Raftis said of the back end. “We don’t necessarily have a lot of big names, but we like to play with efficiency and speed. Our guys have done a great job executing what’s been set out before them and I’d highlight guys like Conor Timmins, Mac Hollowell and Anthony Demeo who are all heading in the right direction. Their progress has allowed us to spread the minutes around a little bit more and take a bit of the load off Colton White and Gustav Bouramman.”
A 2017 NHL Draft prospect, Timmins leads the Hounds in scoring from the back end, recording 24 points (3-21–24) over 28 games. White, a New Jersey Devils prospect and Bouramman, a Minnesota Wild selection, are used in all situations by Bannister and assistant coaches Joe Cirella and Ryan Ward.
In the crease, 18-year-old Joseph Raaymakers has made 19 starts, but perhaps the club’s biggest surprise has been 17-year-old free agent training camp invite Matthew Villalta, who has surged out of the gate to an 8-1-0-0 start with a 2.44 goals-against-average and .911 save percentage.
Villalta was recently named CHL Goaltender of the Week and has passed every test thrown at him this season.
“He’s a confident kid who is playing his game with a lot of confidence right now,” said Raftis. “Sometimes you get a little extra fire from that free agent addition who is looking to prove some people wrong. That’s definitely been the case with Matt this season.”
The Hounds will face a test this weekend, losing the services of Zach Senyshyn who heads to World Junior Camp ahead of a three-in-four set that includes visits to Niagara, Erie and Hamilton.
It’s been a four-way fight atop the Western Conference to this point in the season as the Hounds look to keep hanging in there with Erie, London and Windsor down the stretch.
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