The OHL’s Central Division produced the Eastern Conference’s
three top teams last season with Toronto St. Michael’s Majors, Mississauga Ice
Dogs and Barrie Colts, with the Ice Dogs representing the conference in the
finals. All three teams were solid offensively but more importantly fantastic
defensively, allowing fewer than 200 goals a piece. The Brampton Battalion, who
many felt was the best team in the conference heading into the season, finished
fourth in the Central.
In 2004-05, the Ice Dogs are the team to beat. They return
all of their key players, and have some young players who will only improve.
Brampton, Toronto and Barrie will all be competitive, and at the same time, the
Sudbury Wolves will try to break through after a few years in a complete rebuilding
phase. This division may also have the league’s top three goaltenders in
Mississauga’s David Shantz (FLA), Toronto St. Mike’s Justin Peters (CAR) and Sudbury’s Patrick Ehelechner (SJ).
The Colts have had a string of mediocre seasons and last
year was no different. The team may have deserved better, as they were quite
good defensively, with the second fewest goals in the league, but their
offensive production was a bit sub-par. It may not help that their leading
scorer, five-year league veteran Cory
Stillman, has moved on to the professional ranks. But there is reason for
optimism in Colts territory.
The reason for optimism is Bryan Little, who despite not being eligible until the 2006 draft,
was the league’s top rookie last year. In fact, Little finished only one point
below Stillman for the team lead and his 34 goals were not only 12 more than
anybody else on the Colts, but one of the top totals in the Eastern Conference.
Little should only build on a great rookie campaign in 2004-05.
Crombeen (DAL) returns for a fourth and possibly final season with
the Colts. The hulking winger is valuable not only for his solid offensive
contributions, but his size and toughness. Behind those two, the Colts are
generally young and unproven up front. Overage center Dan Speer, who had a career-high 12 goals last year, is one player
who will be asked to play a more offensive role. On the blueline, Scott Hotham was everything the
coaching staff could have hoped for and more after being acquired early on in
the season from the Mississauga Ice Dogs. Before joining Barrie, Hotham was
more or less a journeyman who had only 26 points in 134 games in the league. A
native of Barrie, Hotham put up 38 points in 53 games from the blueline with
the Colts. He returns as an overager, and will have to prove last year was no
Another slick offensive defenseman who returns is Lukas Bolf, who should improve in his
second year in the OHL after a somewhat disappointing first campaign. One
player to watch out for on the blueline is Steve
Spade, who was drafted in the first round by the Colts in 2003, the same
year they took Little in the third round. If nothing else, this is a blueline
that moves the puck extremely well and Hotham especially will be a key to the
team’s success on the ice.
In goal, Jeff Weber
is the main man. After coming over mid-season from the Plymouth Whalers, Weber
will go into the season as the starter for the first time in his overage year.
Solid but unspectacular, Weber has good size and was quite good last year with
the Colts. The team also plays such a stingy defensive game, that Weber is not
asked to do as much as many other goalies in the league. The Colts in general
may lack depth, but they have one of junior hockey’s top rising stars in
Little, as well as a great team game, and should make the playoffs once again
The Battalion were perhaps the OHL’s biggest disappointment
last year. Very little went right for the team. Adam Henrich (TB),
now departed, put up his worst totals since 2000-01, his rookie campaign.
Panther second round pick Kamil Kreps
(FLA) also disappointed, putting up 19 goals for the third straight campaign
and putting up 15 fewer points than in his draft year. Veteran goaltender Brad Topping (NYI) was also less than
stellar. It was not a good year for a team considered a legitimate contender
for league champion. Head Coach Stan Butler will need to get more out of his
players in 2004-05.
Last year, top 2004 draft prospect Wojtek Wolski (COL) was the team’s top player, but should have been
better. Wolski has as much talent as just about anybody in the league, but
needs to play with more consistency and heart. Ryan Oulahen also struggled, but should bounce back with more
responsibility. Not only is Henrich gone, but Kreps signed with Florida late in
training camp, and will not be back. One player to watch up front is Howie Martin, who is in his draft year
and has the skill to be a good secondary threat.
From the backline, the Battalion will be big if nothing
else. Every defenseman stands at least 6’1. Martin Lojek (FLA) a 6’4 defenseman who handles the puck very well,
but could stand to add a mean streak, will be the team’s top blueliner.
Overager Stuart Simmons brings a
veteran presence and a mature attitude. The club’s 2003 first round pick, Phil Oreskovich, is a great talent who
has size, skills and demeanor to be a force, and in his NHL draft year, so he
should step up.
In goal, Kevin
Couture returns as the main man. A small and quick goalie who works hard at
his game, Couture will have to prove he has the stamina and endurance to handle
the wear and tear of being a No. 1 goalie all season. If Couture holds up, and
the rest of the team plays to their potential, the Battalion should be a good
team. This team does not possess the potential they did a year ago, and the
late loss of Kreps was crippling, even if he struggled last year.
Mississauga Ice Dogs
It’s amazing what a star forward, a great defenseman and a
hot goaltender can do in a playoff run. The Ice Dogs were once the laughing
stock of the league because of several brutal years including one campaign with
only three wins. But last year, the Dogs had a good regular season, and really
turned it up in the playoffs. Star forward Patrick
O’Sullivan (MIN), stud
defenseman Kyle Quincey (DET) and top goaltender Shantz led the team to the OHL
Championship, losing out to the Guelph Storm in the end. All three return, in
what should be an exciting year for the team Don Cherry founded.
Up front, it’s all about O’Sullivan. Nobody can question his
ability. His 43 goals (in only 53 games) were almost twice as many as the next
best scorer on the team. He made linemate Brad
Efthimiou, who had one career goal in the OHL back in 2000-01, his only
other season in the league, into a 74-point scorer. This year, O’Sullivan will
be asked to be everything he was last year, if not more. The club’s best chance
to provide real secondary scoring for O’Sullivan would be Chad Painchaud (ATL).
Quincey does for the defense what O’Sullivan does for the
offense. After coming over early on for 2003 OHL Rookie of the Year and former
first overall OHL selection Robbie
Schremp (EDM), Quincey was
fantastic. Not only is Quincey big and tough, but he’s also a smooth
puck-handler who runs the Dog’s power play. Quincey will only improve in his
second season as the club’s top blueliner. Adam
Abraham, who had 24 points last year as a 16-year-old, will step into a big
role with the graduation of a few veterans. The rest of the blueline in general
is young, meaning Quincey will have to continue his fine play for this area to
Goaltending is without a doubt an area of strength for the
Dogs. Shantz established himself as one of the league’s top goaltenders, with one
of the best playoff goaltending performances in recent memory. In 24 playoff
games, Shantz had a goals against average of 2.03 and a save percentage of
.933, to go along with five shutouts. Shantz has no problems with pressure or a
heavy workload, and may be the league’s top goaltender heading into the season.
Much of the team’s chances depend on whether or not their lack of depth becomes
an issue. Nonetheless, they are probably the Eastern Conference’s top team
heading into the season.
Toronto St. Mikes Majors
The Majors are one team that always seems to be competitive
because they always play a stingy defensive game combined with being a
goaltending factory of sorts. Even though the Majors had no player with more
than 67 points last year, they still won the division crown last year. But they
aren’t quite as strong and solid this year. Gone is their franchise player and
team captain Tim Brent (ANA) as well
as several other veterans.
Left up front are Ryan
Rorabeck (CAR), Cory Vitarelli and Tyler Haskins (DET),
who were third, fourth and fifth in team scoring last year. Haskins, who
started the year with the Guelph Storm, is expected to take control as the
team’s leader. There are also a few other tough veteran players like overagers Colin Power and Darryl Boyce, who know how to play the Majors system to perfection.
The defense is also solid, despite some graduations. Scott Lehman (ATL) returns and is both reasonably skilled and had
189 penalty minutes last year. Dale Good
and Nathan McIver (VAN) are two
other returning players who will play key roles on the blueline. Rounding out
the top four is Ryan Wilson, who is
a good prospect for the 2005 draft. Wilson has both skill and a bit of a mean
streak. The team’s top four is quite solid and has a little bit of everything.
Just like their rivals from Mississauga, the Majors are
absolutely set in goal. In fact, their goalie top goalie, Peters, went right after Shantz in last year’s draft. Peters and
Shantz are very similar in that they are both reasonably sized with strong
technical ability, and a penchant for stepping up big when it matters most. The
Majors play a defensive style as well, so Peters only makes them stronger
defensively. This team will not score as much as teams like the 67’s, but have
a good defensive system, a strong top four and a great goaltender, so they
should once again be competitive.
The Wolves have been in a rebuilding stage for a few years
now, and while last year they were not a great team, they were by no means as
poor as teams like Belleville. Sudbury has been collecting young players and
may be primed for a mini-breakout season of sorts. Most of their top players
are set to return, including their stud import goaltender Ehelechner, who was second to Barrie’s
Paulo Colaiacovo for top goaltender honors last year.
In terms of forwards, their top scorer last year, Bobby Chaumont, returns for his overage
season. Chaumont is a pure skill right winger who put up 31 goals last year and
will have to if nothing else repeat that total this coming year. Last year’s
second leading scorer Rafal Martynowski,
also an overager this year, will be asked to team with Chaumont to put up some
good scoring totals. Also returning is hulking captain Zach Stortini (EDM),
who provides leadership, muscle and some scoring punch as well. After these
players, none of which are top players in the league anyways, there isn’t a ton
of offensive talent. Stefan Blaho
(NYI) was a major disappointment in his first season in North America, and the
Wolves could really use a great year from him.
The defense is young but talented. Marc Staal will be the leader of the pack, and he is the complete
package. His older brother Eric is considered a potential franchise player for
the Carolina Hurricanes, and his younger brother Jordan went third overall in
last year’s OHL Draft. Marc will team with another 17-year-old blueliner in Kyle Lamb, to form a young and talented
one-two punch on the blueline. The rest of the blueline is mostly young and
inexperienced as well, which creates hope for the future, but will once again
put pressure on the goaltender.
Ehelechner returns between the pipes. The Sharks prospect
that came over last year from Germany, and he is as good a goaltender as there
is in the league. He routinely faced 30 or 40 shots last year, and shone in the
process. Ehelechner can steal games, and if the rest of the team is solid, he
could carry them into contention. The defense is young and the forwards simply
aren’t that talented, but the Wolves are headed in the right direction and the
2004-05 season should be a step forward for them as a franchise.
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