Issue # 10
1999 – 2000 SEASON PREVIEW
Team eyes playoffs as second campaign gets underway
The Brampton Battalion kick off their second season in the Ontario Hockey League’s competitive Midwest division Friday night against the powerful Barrie Colts at home in the Bunker. Unlike last season, when head coach Stan Butler and his young squad concentrated more on being competitive every night, rather than winning right away, this year’s lineup clearly has a playoff position in its sights.
Despite the loss of Jason Spezza to the Mississauga IceDogs in June’s OHL Priority Selection, the Battalion look to be much improved this year. The team has returned all but five players from last year’s lineup which compiled a record of 8-57-3 and, augmented by such impressive rookies as Jay McClement, Mike Rice, Matt Grennier and Rostislav Klesla, racked up a 2-2-2 record in the pre-season. The Battalion split a pair of games with the Oshawa Generals and Owen Sound Platers and managed two ties with the Guelph Storm. By contrast, during their inaugural exhibition slate last year, they only managed one tie in six outings.
Here is a quick look at how this year’s team shapes up by position:
The team will once again have the services of last year’s netminders, David Chant and Scott Della Vedova. Chant sat out the pre-season with an injury but was capably backed up by Della Vedova who played every game. Chant is slated to start the opener and Stan Butler told the Brampton Guardian that he expects Chant to play about 80% of the games this season.
OHL All-Rookie team selection Jay Harrison and captain Jason Maleyko return to lead the defence corps. Fellow veterans Tyler Hanchuk, Cam McLaughlin and Brad Woods will join them. It was an exciting off-season for some of the battalion blueliners. Hanchuk and Harrison played on the Stan Butler – coached Canadian under-18 squad that captured gold at the Four Nations tournament in the Czech Republic in August and Woods was selected in the sixth round of this year’s NHL Entry draft by the Florida Panthers. Two rookies will be making their OHL debut on the Battalion blueline this season. Cobourg native Paul Flache, a fifth round pick who impressed at the three-day mini-camp the team held in June, will be joined by 1999 CHL Import draft selection Rostislav Klesla of the Czech Republic, who played last season for the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League. The team is hoping that Klesla can be the offensive defenceman that they were missing last season.
With Jason Spezza playing down the road in Mississauga, the team will rely heavily on their first line of center Jeff Bateman and wingers Raffi Torres and Lukas Havel to provide some offensive punch. The trio had a tremendous second half last season and there is little doubt that they will have to be major contributors to an offense that found goals hard to come by in their first year. Bateman was selected in the fourth round of the NHL Entry draft by the Dallas Stars and, while he only played in three exhibition games for the Battalion due to commitments at the Stars camp, looks poised for a breakthrough year. Torres and Havel both had fine pre-season’s working primarily, in Bateman’s absence, with impressive second round draft choice Matt Grennier. Havel, a native of the Czech Republic who is one of Brampton’s most popular players, further endeared himself to the Bunker faithful by engaging in his first fight during a home game last week with Oshawa.
Other returnees from last year include productive wingers Shane Fryia, Scott Thompson and Kurt MacSweyn, hard-working defensive specialist Aaron Van Leusen, fourth line center Matt Reynolds, and center Blair McLaughlin, who was injured during the pre-season and spent the second half of last season on the shelf with a broken jaw.
They will be joined by an impressive rookie crop. Aside from Grennier, other first-year forwards include Brampton’s top draft choice in 1999, center Jay McClement, left winger Chris Cook, a third round choice from Kingston who spent two years as Jay McClement’s linemate, fourth round pick Mike Rice, a left winger from North York, and right winger Tyler Dukelow, a seventh rounder who has shown some offensive prowess in the pre-season.
By all accounts the Battalion will once again be without the services of their first CHL Import draft selection from 1998, center Nikolai Antropov of Kazakhstan. Antropov, also a first round selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1998, has been turning heads at the Leaf camp and if the team sends him back to junior, Brampton will trade his rights as Stan Butler has already indicated that he is committed to the two European – born players he already has, Lukas Havel and Rostislav Klesla. It has been widely speculated that Antropov’s rights would be traded to another team in the southern Ontario area (the ethno-centric Mississauga IceDogs being the notable exception of course), with St. Mike’s, Sarnia and Barrie among the destinations being mentioned.
If the exhibition season is any indication, the Battalion should be much improved offensively this season. A big year from the line of Bateman, Torres, Havel, along with significant contributions from players like Thompson, MacSweyn, McClement, Grennier and Rice as well as steady play on the blueline and between the pipes will give the team a good chance to compete for a playoff spot..
In addition to all of these factors falling into place, for the team to have a successful sophomore campaign, they will have to upgrade their play on special teams and become a better road team (both of last year’s road wins came in nearby Mississauga). And while the team had some degree of success last year against their Midwest rivals (they notched at least one win against every division foe but Owen Sound) but they will need to be more competitive within their own division if they are going to secure a post-season berth.