With a 4-3 win over rival Oshawa Generals on Thursday December 19th, the Peterborough Petes wrapped up the first half of their season, and prepared for a weeklong Christmas holiday. The Petes finished their first 34 games with a record of 12-13-7-2, good for fourth in the OHL East Division. They currently sit four points behind third place Belleville, a whopping 20 points behind first place Ottawa, and seven points ahead of last place Kingston.
It is safe to say that the first half of the 02-03 season was a disappointment. Expectations were high entering the season, and it was expected by some, including myself, that the Petes might challenge for first in the East division, which they haven’t done since 1996-97.
There are many reasons for the Petes poor record: the weak defensive play that especially haunted Peterborough early in the season and continues to be a weak spot, the lack of scoring depth, and the somwhat surprising way the Ottawa 67’s have dominated the OHL and run away the East division.
Here is a further review of the Petes first half:
Forwards: It is easy to pick out the Petes best forward this season. Eric Staal has done it all for the Petes, and has been one of the elite OHL forwards in this, his draft year. At the halfway mark, Staal sits 6th in league scoring with 20 goals and 32 assists in 32 games. Should he continue his pace, and there is no reason to think he won’t, he could become the first Pete since Cameron Mann in 95-96 to top 100 points.
After Staal, the Petes have had consistent contributions from only two forwards, Jamie Tardif and Greg Chambers. Tardif, now in his second OHL season, has followed up an impressive rookie year, which saw him score 22 goals and 44 points, with 17 goals and 15 assists in 34 games. He has been good enough this season, and has som much potenital, that Petes GM Jeff Twohey reportedly turned down an offer to trade Tardif to Mississauga for Patrick O’Sullivan. Chambers, after a sluggish start, has caught fire of late, and has 18 goals and 24 assists in 33 games. With the way he has played recently, he is a good bet to repeat last season’s team high 89 points.
After the Petes big three forwards, offence has been hard to come by. Rookie Evgeny Kadatskiy has improved of late, and may finish fifth in team scoring by seasons end. Captain Jon Howse has been somewhat inconsistent, but when he has scored, the goals have been very valuable.
Rookie Patrick Kaleta continues to be one of the OHL’s most feared body checkers, and is a valuable member of the team. Greg Williams, another rookie has slowed considerably after a blazing start, but still is looking good. Top pick Jordan Morrison has not played all that well this season, but there is no reason to doubt that he will be a top OHL player in the future, just not as quickly as hoped. Veterans Jason Penner and Josh Patterson continue to give solid efforts and work well in the corners. Penner doesn’t score as much as needed, but still earns plenty of ice time. Patterson has emerged as the Petes most feared fighter, with the departure of James Edgar to London. Both Mike Ramsay and Chad Robinson have been used sparingly, and when they have played, both have failed to make an impact. Ramsay may not return to the OHL following the Christmas break.
Defence: The Petes defence has been a sore spot all season. Early on, in the first two months, the defence as a whole was awful, there is no way to sugarcoat it. However, in the last few weeks they have improved, although not nearly enough to be able to compete with the likes of Ottawa or Belleville in the playoffs. The Petes top defenceman has been Lukas Krajicek. He arrived late from the Florida Panthers, and also missed some time due to injury, but he has 8 goals and 18 assists in 23 games, good for fourth in overall team scoring. He is also a plus 8, far and away tops among Pete’s blueliners. He has been the catalyst on the powerplay, and is on the ice nearly all the time.
Overager Adam Elzinga has played solid, but it is safe to say he hasn’t quite played up to the expectations of an overager yet. He is especially needed because the defence has had a tough time playing physical in front of the net, and that is what Elzinga does best. Going into the season, it was expected that Ryan Card would become a good number three defenceman, however Mark Flood has stepped into that role, and especially in the past three weeks to a month, has shown he is a very good defenceman. He has had troubles clearing forwards from the crease area, but in general has been good. Rookie Aaron Dawson is enjoying a good rookie season, he hasn’t scored yet, but is a plus 2, and has shown a physical side, using his 6-5 frame to punish opposing forwards.
Ryan Card has had a trying season. He began on defence, but poor play led him to switch to forward, where he played for a couple of weeks, before switching back to the blueline with Krajicek away at the Czech national junior camp. It is unclear where Card will be better suited, but the switch from wing to defence will likely continue the rest of the season.
Another player who has rotated between the blueline and the wing is rookie Shawn Futers. Futers has been used sparingly, but has shown a good work ethic and physical side when he has been on the ice. Second year enforcer Bryan Hamm has improved over last season in terms of his defensive play. The physical aspect is there too, as he will fight nearly all that challenge him. Trevor Hendrikx has played very physically this season, and though he missed time with an infected hand, he has managed to rack up 61 penalty minutes in 27 games, good for third on the team. Unfortunately for the Petes he has not progressed as much as anticipated from last year, as he sits at a minus 7.
Goaltending: David Currie has been, along with Eric Staal, the Petes best player this season, and has proven he is among the OHL’s elite netminders. Currie has routinely been making 40 saves a game, and sits eighth in the OHL in save percentage, at .908, and tied for first with 3 shutouts. He has been the Petes saviour in countless games, and with the exception of a couple of early season blowouts, has been extremely consistent. He has proven a worthy follow-up to star Joey MacDonald, but unless the team in front of him improves, will likely not enjoy the playoff success that former Pete’s great goalies like Zac Bierk and Todd Bojcun did.
Rookie Jeff MacDougald started the season playing extremely well. He was among the top goalies in the league through the first month, and despite playing a back-up role, was mentioned as one of the leagues rising stars. He has cooled off since the torrid start, but still plays well when called upon, and it is safe to say that the Petes will be set in the net for the near future.
The second half of the season is very important for the Petes, and not just on the ice. The team will be doing extensive renovations to the Memorial Centre in the off-season, and with the near certain increase in ticket prices, the team may be in tough to draw well after the initial buzz of the renovated building dies down. However, if the Petes were to be successful on the ice, that could change.
The schedule for the second half is a difficult one for the Petes, as they play four games against division rival Belleville, and five against Ottawa. At this point, it seems unlikely that the Petes can end their string of playoff losses, as they have lost in the first round in each of the last five seasons.
Trades of any significance are unlikely, as the Petes traditionally stay put with their team, for the good or bad of the organization. With the bleak looking second half, and the weak overage candidates for next season, the team should consider trades, but don’t bet on it.
However, with the likes of Staal, Chambers, Tardif, Krajicek and Currie, as second half surge isn’t out of the question.