By Aaron Bell
The 2011-12 Ontario Hockey League regular season schedule of games opens on Wednesday when the 2010-11 Ontario Hockey League champion Owen Sound Attack host the Plymouth Whalers. The Eastern Conference champion Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors open on the road in Sudbury against the Wolves on Friday. Here is a look at the teams in the Eastern Conference.
Key Returnee: Mark Scheifele scored his way from anonymity last season as a rookie with the Colts and that led him to become a first round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in the draft in June. He won’t take anyone by surprise this year but the Colts are hoping that he can continue to be a dominant player for them.
Forwards: Top scorer Colin Behenna returns as an overager and will continue to be counted on to lead the way for the Colts’ youthful lineup. Steven Byers and Eric Locke both return after they also scored on a consistent basis last year and the team will be looking to newcomers Ivan Telegin, Gregg Sutch and Victor Terreri to help them fill the net on a more regular basis.
Defence: The Colts have an unheralded group on the back end but veterans Derek Hartwick, Reid McNeill and Chris Buonomo will all eat up lots of minutes on the blueline. First overall pick Aaron Ekblad will be under the microscope after getting exceptional player status to play this season. He already looks like he’s up to the task.
Goaltending: The Colts have some question marks between the pipes with only Clint Windsor coming into the job with OHL experience. He played 34 games with the rebuilding Colts a year ago. They also added 18-year-old German netminder Mathias Niederberger through the CHL Import Draft.
Behind the Bench: After finishing in last place in his first season behind the bench, Dale Hawerchuk is anxious to help the Colts move forward this year.
Key Returnee: When Bulls’ captain Luke Judson was lost late last season you could hear a collective sigh from the team and fans alike. Judson was already the heart and soul of the club and also blossomed into their top goal scorer. As an overager, he’ll be looking to build on his 28-goal, 56-point season from a year ago.
Forwards: The Bulls have an impressive group of third year forwards that includes Michael Curtis, Austen Brassard and Carter Sandlak that have the opportunity to take a leadership role. Throw in overagers Adam Payerl and Brett Mackie and newcomers Garrett Hooey and Mack Lemmon and they should be able to fill the net on a more regular basis than they did a year ago.
Defence: The Bulls brought in veteran defenders Simon Gronvaldt, Brady Austin and Jason Shaw to shore things up in their own end and make life a little more difficult for opposing forwards. Veteran Stephen Silas is looking to fulfill expectations this season and first round pick Jordan Subban has already shown flashes of being an elite-level defender.
Goaltending: Malcolm Subban emerged from a tandem situation with Tyson Teichmann last season to take over the starter’s role. He exudes confidence between the pipes and welcomed the addition of veteran John Chartrand in the off-season.
Behind the Bench: George Burnett has become one of the winningest coaches in the OHL and there are few that can match his hockey IQ. He is anxious to put a forgettable season behind him and his club.
Key Returnee: Former first round pick Barclay Goodrow enjoyed a terrific sophomore season last year and looks like he’s ready to take the next step and become a dominant player. He scored 24 goals and 39 points a year ago and has the ability to build on those numbers significantly this time around.
Forwards: Ian Watters scored 20 goals and 42 points last season – a significant jump from the previous year – and the Troops are counting on more from their overage leader this season. Sam Carrick, Michael Santini and Philip Lane were all productive last season and combine to offer the Battalion scoring depth up front.
Defence: As a rookie last season, Marcus McIvor already showed the poise of a veteran and should develop into one of the top defenders in the Eastern Conference. Cameron Wind is the elder statesman as the only 19-year-old on their very young blueline that also includes steady sophomores Spencer Abraham and Dylan Blujus.
Goaltending: Matej Machovsky was very stable for Brampton after a mid-season trade from Guelph. They will continue to count on him to be a steady presence behind their young blueline group.
Behind the Bench: Stan Butler enters his 14th season behind the Battalion bench with a terrific track record of developing young players into solid OHL’ers. He’ll look to do that again this season as he builds his team into a contender.
Key Returnee: Ryan Spooner came over from Peterborough last season and led the Frontenacs’ veteran squad in scoring. This year they have a much younger group and will count on the Boston Bruins’ prospect even more.
Forwards: Overagers Tyler Brown and Conor Stokes will also be leaned on heavily this season to set the tone up front. Nathan Cull was a regular as a rookie last season and will use that experience to contribute more this time around. Darcy Greenaway was a dynamic player that helped Wellington win a provincial championship last year and has been exciting up front early on.
Defence: Although he’s eligible to return for a fourth season of junior hockey, the Frontenacs are preparing for life after Erik Gudbranson, the third overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. He’s in Florida and has every expectation of playing in the NHL this season. Younger brother Alex Gudbranson is a hard-nosed competitor that will be counted on for more this year while Jeff Braithwaite is as dependable as they come.
Goaltending: The Frontenacs shored up a question mark in goal by acquiring big Igor Bobkov from the London Knights in the off-season. Bobkov helped Russia win the gold medal at the World Juniors last year in Buffalo.
Behind the Bench: Doug Gilmour moved up to the GM role in the off season and brought in another former Maple Leaf – Todd Gill to take over the coaching reins. He spent the past five years behind the bench of the Brockville Jr. A Braves.
MISSISSAUGA ST. MICHAEL’S MAJORS
Key Returnee: Devante Smith-Pelly has emerged as one of the top power forwards in the league and after scoring 36 goals and 66 points for the first place Majors last season, he is ready to take a shot at a 50-goal campaign.
Forwards: The Majors return a solid core after coming within one game of winning the OHL championship and the Memorial Cup last season. Veterans Jordan Mayer, Jamie Wise, Riley Brace and Joseph Cramarossa are all proven OHL performers.
Defence: Toronto Maple Leafs’ first rounder Stuart Percy has developed into a terrific performer at both ends of the ice and was outstanding during their lengthy playoff run last year. He’s ready to step into the spotlight this season. David Corrente, Dylan DeMelo and Alex Cord are also all back after playing full-time minutes last year.
Goaltending: JP Anderson started the Majors’ OHL playoff run with a record setting shutout performance and continued his hot hand throughout the post-season. They took Spencer Martin in the first round of the OHL Priority Selection to prepare for life after Anderson.
Behind the Bench: With Dave Cameron moving on to the Ottawa Senators, James Boyd moves up to the GM/head coach role. The former Belleville Bulls’ forward also coached the Bulls and was a co-coach with the Majors for the past four seasons.
Key Returnee: The IceDogs were the top rated OHL team in the pre-season BMO MasterCard CHL Top-10 rankings and a big part of that pre-season hype comes via third-year pivot Ryan Strome. The fifth overall pick of the New York Islanders in the NHL Draft in June scored 33 goals and 106 points last year and is capable of building on that this year.
Forwards: Strome may be the crown jewel of the IceDogs’ offence but he is supported by an impressive group with different assets. Captain Andrew Agozzino has a tenacious nose for the net and scored 43 goals last year. Alex Friesen, Stephen Shipley and David Pacan also bring offensive punch while Freddie Hamilton is one of the top two-way forwards in the league.
Defence: The IceDogs are blessed with size and skill on the back end and opposing teams won’t relish the thought of getting past the group of Dougie Hamilton, Brock Beukeboom and Shayne Rover. Sophomores Jesse Graham and Luke Mercer, both first round picks in 2010, are both highly regarded and should start to log more minutes this season.
Goaltending: Mark Visentin is the undisputed number one and gives the IceDogs championship-calibre goaltending. The question comes in who will be the backup. Overager Dalton McGrath, import Jaroslav Pavelka and Mike Gallardi, who made a couple of brief appearances last year, are all in the mix.
Behind the Bench: Marty Williamson pushed the Barrie Colts to the OHL championships two years ago and then gave the rebuilding IceDogs a big boost last season. He has the experience and roster to take another run at the league title.
Key Returnee: Boone Jenner came to the Generals as a highly regarded prospect and has quickly developed into their leader on and off the ice. Their new captain scored 25 goals and 66 points last year but was also their key face-off guy and is able to play in any situation.
Forwards: The post-John Tavares Generals were targeting this season to make another run at the league championship and boast a deep forward group that also includes Christian Thomas – who scored 54 goals and 99 points last season – Lucas Lessio, Scott Laughton, Andy Andreoff and Nicklas Jensen in the mix. First rounder Cole Cassels brings loads of talent as well but will be brought along slowly.
Defence: Overagers Scott Valentine and Daniel Maggio are both difficult to play against and anchor a blueline group that also includes veterans like Nick Quinn, Colin Suellentrop and Jimmy McDowell.
Goaltending: Former first rounder pick Kevin Bailie will get every opportunity to prove that he can provide the top end netminding that the Generals will need this season while heralded prospect Daniel Altshuller came over from Belleville in a training camp trade.
Behind the Bench: Chris DePiero enters his fourth full season behind the Generals bench and has had the opportunity to shape the team into a contender this season.
Key Returnee: After scoring 57 goals and 108 points last season, the sky is truly the limit for sniper Tyler Toffoli this season. The 67’s are hoping to make some noise in the East against contenders like Niagara and Oshawa and Toffoli gives them the firepower to do it.
Forwards: Shane Prince and Ryan Martindale have also emerged as a bona-fide scoring stars at this level and combine with Toffoli to return the 67’s top three scorers from a year ago. Sophomore Sean Monahan scored 20 goals and 47 points as a rookie and is already developing a reputation as a big-game scorer. Nicholas Foglia is taking on a bigger role as a sophomore and big David Perklin was Ottawa’s first round pick after a terrific minor midget season.
Defence: Former first round pick Cody Ceci took a big step forward offensively last season and looks comfortable in his role as a leader on the blueline. Overager Marc Zanetti also plays in every situation and provides stability on the back end. Big Slovak Michal Cajkovsky was a competitor with the Frontenacs last season and watch for sophomore Ryan Shipley to add to his role this season.
Goaltending: The 67’s have a pair of 19-year-olds in their netminding tandem this year in incumbent starter Petr Mrazek and Shayne Campbell – who won’t turn 19 until November.
Behind the Bench: After two seasons behind the 67’s bench, Chris Byrne has added the GM tag to his duties this season. He had the unenviable job of following Brian Kilrea behind the 67’s bench but has already proven himself to be a good leader.
Key Returnee: Matt Puempel has already proven himself to be one of the most dynamic players in the Eastern Conference and if he can play a full season, he has the ability to reach for 50 goals and 100 points this season.
Forwards: The Petes haven’t had the same pre-season fanfare as some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference but have a forward group that should line up with the heavy hitters. Along with Puempel, the Petes can roll out solid contributors Austin Watson, Alan Quine and Andrew Yogan. Also watch for second overall pick Nick Ritchie to get involved offensively right away.
Defence: The Petes have a young, but talented, group on the back end. 18-year-olds Clark Seymour, Cole Murduff and Steven Trojanovic will see loads of ice time along with sophomores Slater Koekkoek and Connor Boland, the Petes’ top two picks in 2010.
Goaltending: Andrew D’Agostini pulled down most of the netminding duties for the Petes last season but the off-season addition of Mike Morrison from Kitchener will provide for lots of competition for the top job in Peterborough.
Behind the Bench: The Petes missed the playoffs by just three points last season and Mike Pelino is looking to remedy that in his second season behind the Petes’ bench.
Key Returnee: Michael Sgarbossa was a revelation after coming to Sudbury in a mid-season trade last season. He put up almost two points a game in 37 games with the Wolves and they would love to see him build on that production this season.
Forwards: Sgarbossa is clearly the key to the Wolves’ offensive production but he has lots of support in veterans like Andrey Kuchin, Michael MacDonald and Kristoff Kontos. Youngsters Brody Silk and Mathew Campagna are also ready for a bigger role and first round pick Nicholas Baptiste has as much skill as any player available this year.
Defence: Josh McFadden came into his own last year and exploded for 19 goals on the Wolves blueline. A similar year would go a long way in helping the Wolves’ fate in the competitive Eastern Conference this season. Frank Corrado and Charlie Dodero have also proven to be reliable performers and Justin Sefton loves to mix things up and create havoc for opposing forwards in the Wolves’ end of the ice. Ryan Hanes has also been solid in the pre-season.
Goaltending: Big Swede Johan Mattsson has locked up one spot in the Wolves’ crease while Joel Vienneau and Brendan O’Neill have been battling for the other. Either way, the starting job is up for grabs and the Wolves hope someone steps up and takes it.
Behind the Bench: In his first season behind the Wolves’ bench, Trent Cull laid down a terrific foundation with his crew that paid off with a first round upset sweep of the Ottawa 67’s last spring. He hopes to build on that this season.