This column will endeavour to keep you informed about happenings going on with the Windsor Spitfires and Plymouth Whalers over the course of the 1999-2000 OHL season. Emphasis will be placed on the progress of the teams, of course, but particular emphasis will be placed on the rookies and selected sophomores on each team. You will be able to check out how these youngsters are doing offensively, along with some comments on how they’re handling themselves as the season goes on.
For now, some jots and thoughts as the teams get ready to open the season.
For some, the pre-season is a lot like the TV game show “Whose Line is it Anyway.” (Everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.)
However, coaches and GMs spend long hours going over each player’s performance.
In Windsor, the feeling is one of rebirth. Things are looking up with the hiring of Tom Webster as coach and Mike Kelly as GM.
Together, they’ve brought an air of knowledge and professionalism, the likes of which Windsor Arena hasn’t seen in a good, long while.
It started in early July, a few weeks after the draft. The players were sent a conditioning program to follow, and while it’s a work in progress, things seem better this time than they did a year ago.
Webster told the Windsor Star the biggest challenge is getting players to do the program.
“What they have to realize eventually is that the game becomes so much easier when they’re in shape.”
In the exhibition season, they’ve tried to do just that, and it’s going to make this season fun to watch as time goes by.
The Spits have lost a good chunk of offense with the graduations of Jeff Martin and Michael Hanson. While Webster has spent the last few games mixing and matching his lines, one line stands out the most offensively. This line includes rookies Fedor Fedorov and Ivan Rachunek playing alonsideh second year man Pavel Shtefan.
The younger brother of Red Wing Sergei, the 6’4″, 208 pound centre is a good skater with a nose for the puck. But the key, as with all skaters, is his play away from the puck.
He has already shown a willingness to use his body. Against Erie, the Otters had moved the puck out of their zone when an Otter tried to bounce Fedorov. Fedor ducked into him and sent the Erie player head over heels.
Rachunek is a small, but talented skater who handles the puck very well. Together with Shtefan, they could be one of the OHL’s best lines before too long.
First round draft pick Defenceman Tim Gleason has looked steady, playing a good 2-way game. His feet are almost always moving, which helps him get back ino position quicker if he gets caught.
19-year old Center Shawn Mather passed up the last three years of a free ride scholarship at Michigan State to play in the OHL, and he’s being counted on to be a leader. He’s already seen action penalty killing as well as on the power play.
The sixth round pick, goalie Ryan Aschaber, plays a standup style and lines up well against shooters. He doesn’t look comfortable when he does go down, but that could be a case of nerves as he faces better competition. He also needs to work on his puckhandling, but that too will come with experience.
During the season, I’ll provide thumbnail sketches on the other new Spits.
One more thing. Jeff Kugel.
Already, the big Michigander is a marked man. Watch for it. It’s already happened. Every psuedo-tough guy is going to goad him into doing something dumb out there.
After last year’s idiotic suspension, he’s going to be watched even more closely than before. So far, he’s done a good job in ignoring it.
(after writing this: Kugel was placed on waivers for the purpose of giving him his release. Other OHL teams have 48 hours to make a claim.)
Plymouth is a club that has lost a ton of offence with the likes of Harold Druken, Adam Colagiacomo, Paul Mara and Nick Tselios turning 21, and David Legwand likely (at this time anyway) staying with the Nashville Predators.
One or more could wind up back as an overager, but with the talent involved, it’s not likely.
The coaching staff is expecting the second year forwards such as Kris Vernarsky, Jason Williams and Damien Surma to pick up some of the slack. Rookie center Stephen Weiss is also expected to play a major role.
The Whalers appear set in goal with sophomore Rob Zepp and rookie Aaron Molnar backing up a defence which still has some experience despite the graduations.
In a nutshell: the Whalers are going to be hard-pressed to score goals, at least in the beginning. The possible addition of an overager will surely help, but the defensive players are going to be counted on even more to keep the opposition at bay.
In short, this is a major rebuilding year for the boys from Plymouth.