The Niagara IceDogs swung for the fences last spring and flew out just shy of the warning track, making a second round exit from the OHL Playoffs despite winning their first Central Division title since 2012.
The Dogs will return two of the OHL’s best forwards in Akil Thomas and Philip Tomasino, but the depth chart surrounding them is replete with young players looking to make their mark from the goal crease out, something that should make for a very competitive training camp and pre-season.
For the first time since 2013-14, the IceDogs won’t have someone named Stephen Dhillon breaking camp on the roster. The Buffalo, NY native put in parts of five seasons with the franchise, setting career records for wins (98) and games played (197).
With Dhillon joining the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets and 20-year-old Jake McGrath moving on to focus on academic pursuits, minutes in the Niagara crease are there for the taking and a trio of young goaltenders are presented with a big opportunity.
“We’re really expecting Christian Sbaraglia and Tucker Tynan to step in and be our two guys this year, but with that being said our 2019 sixth round pick Josh Rosenzweig has committed to the team and he is going to be given every chance to be here as well,” said IceDogs general manager Joey Burke.
“At this point it’s going to be a three-horse race between our young goaltenders for those two spots, certainly with Sbaraglia having shown us some good things here last season.”
The 18-year-old Sbaraglia is a former sixth round pick by the IceDogs in 2017 who had initially committed to play at Penn State University. The Vaughan Kings graduate spent the 2017-18 season with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL prior to joining the IceDogs where he went 2-2 with a 2.96 goals-against average and .891 save percentage in four games last season.
“Christian, in our minds, was one of the top goaltenders in his 2017 draft class and he’s been a great fit for us so far,” said Burke. “He’s handed himself very well and done all the right things this summer to prepare himself for the opportunity.”
Tynan was a 10th round pick of the IceDogs in 2018 from the Detroit Little Caesars U16 program. The 6-foot-2, 181Ib. netminder spent last season with the New Jersey Rockets of the National Collegiate Development Conference where he posted a 3.31 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in 24 games with a sub-.500 team.
“Bringing in Tucker has been a true testament to the work of our head scout Roger MacLeod who saw him and was adamant that he can play at our level,” noted Burke. “He turned everyone’s heads at camp last year and was the best goaltender there regardless of age.
“The comparison for me is sort of Alex Nedeljkovic 2.0. He’s an exciting prospect and I could see him really turning into something at the OHL level.”
Rosenzweig backstopped the Toronto Red Wings to an appearance in the 2019 OHL Cup Powered by Under Armour Championship Final. The right-handed catching netminder recently attended Canada’s National Summer Under-17 Development Camp in Calgary, Alta.
Though they recently moved veteran forward Matthew Philip to the Owen Sound Attack, a lot remains in the air in Niagara as the IceDogs will enter camp with a total of five overage candidates in defencemen Drew Hunter, Jacob Paquette, Elijah Roberts and forwards Oliver Castleman and Bradey Johnson.
There’s plenty of decisions for GM Joey and head coach Billy Burke to make ahead of Opening Night in the OHL on Thursday September 19th, but the IceDogs are taking things one day at a time.
“There’s certainly a little weight off the shoulders as we try and shake the extreme disappointment of what happened in the spring, but we’ve put it behind us now and we’re moving forward,” said Joey Burke. “We’ve got an extremely young and hungry group and I couldn’t be more excited to see what some of our young players are going to show us in the weeks and months to come.
“It’s certainly a bit of a different mentality for us this season,” he continued, “but we’ve never missed the playoffs here in Niagara and I’m confident that we’re not going to break that trend this season.”
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