OHL Western Division preview

By Jason Ahrens






OHL Western Division Preview

The
OHL Western Division consists mostly of teams who are building for the future.
Although the division champ will be seeded no lower than second for the
playoffs, it is quite possible that the team’s point total will be lower than
several of the teams from the powerful Midwest Division.

 

The
top spots in the division will be hotly contested and there likely won’t be
separation point wise between the contending teams. The Western Division has
arguably the best NHL prospect in the OHL in Jeff Carter (Philadelphia)
on the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

 

Sarnia Sting

 

The
Sting have yet another new coach this year in former Guelph Storm coach, Shawn
Camp. Camp will try to end the long streak of first round playoff flops for the
team that is the Atlanta Braves of the OHL, good regular season, and short
playoff appearances. He’d do well to instill a better transition game in which
the team does a better job getting the puck to their talented forwards. On the
flip side, Camp has to convince some of his talented players to work harder
without the puck, which won’t be an easy task.

 

Offensively the team will
expect big things from Danny Fritsche (Columbus),
who did a lot of traveling last season. He started the year with Columbus, then
he was sent to the World Junior tournament to play for Team USA and won a gold
medal, then he went back to Sarnia for the duration of the regulation season.
Once Sarnia was knocked out of the playoffs he was off to the AHL with the
Syracuse Crunch. Fritsche is perhaps the best skater in the OHL and possesses a
wicked wrist shot. He struggled with consistency last season, at times he
looked like the elite that player he is, and then he would disappear for shifts
at a time. If Camp can light a fire under him, he could take the Sting far.

 

Fritsche has plenty of
offensive support including veterans John Hecimovic (Florida) and Marco
Caprara
. Hecimovic will put up big points this year after his 30 goals and
62 points from last season. Caprara should be good for around 40 points but
will create a lot of room for teammates as the 5’8 scrapper has the heart of a
heavyweight and will take on all comers and probably spend more than 300
minutes in the box again. Daniel Carcillo
(Pittsburgh) is another 30-goal scorer who might improve his point
totals from the year before.

 

On defense the Sting have a
lot of size, but the question is whether they will be able to move the puck. It
was one big weakness last year as they got bottled up in their own zone. The
biggest blueliner is rookie Nicholas Tuzzolino who stands at 6’6” and
220 pounds. Another newcomer on the point joins the 18-year-old American
overage veteran Erik Schwantz who came over from Brampton. The Sting
have a couple of decent 17-year-olds on the point in Trevor Solomon and Matt
Pelech
.

 

In net, is Ryan Munce (LA) who will keep the Sting
in games and has the potential to be an OHL All-Star this year. Munce covers a
lot of net and has shone in international play for Canada over the last couple
of seasons, and might get an invite to the World Junior team this December.

 

Plymouth Whalers

 

The
Whalers have finally slipped back into the pack after being an elite team in
the OHL for several years. This team has a history of getting good mileage out
of their overage players, they tend to do well with the European draft and they
always seem to find Americans to step in and contribute. They may not have the
NHL blue chip prospects that they once had, but they still have five NHL
draftees in their lineup.

 

Offensively, scoring will be
by committee. The enigmatic Vaclav Meidl
(Nashville) has the ability
to be an impact player at this level, but struggles with consistency. John
Mitchell
(Toronto) led the team in scoring last year with 82 points and the
solid center has the capabilities to repeat that feat. Gino Pisellini (Philadelphia)
used his 6’1 205-pound frame well last year getting 30 points and 214 penalty
minutes and the Whalers are hoping that the 18-year-old improves his offensive
totals this season. Jonas Fiedler (Carolina) is looking to improve from
his poor season last year and the Whalers hope that he can find the 30-goal
range in this his overage season. The Whalers hope to get improved production
out of another overage veteran Tim Sestito who struggled to 30 points
last season. James Neal had six points in only nine games last year and
he could put up decent numbers this time around.

 

The Whalers hope that their
defense will be anchored by David Liffiton (NYR), if he returns for his
overage year. He is one of the best defensive defensemen in the league and will
always see the top units of the opposing team. The rest of the defense corps is
filled with veteran OHL players and should be a tough unit to play against
despite the lack of big names.

 

In net, the Whalers will
look for a solid season from Ryan Nie who apprenticed as their backup last season
and got into 20 games. Rookie
Justin
Garay
will back him up.

 

Windsor Spitfires

 

The Spitfires made some
tough decisions last year and traded some veterans for some younger players and
the short-term pain should pay off this season and next year as well. The
Spitfires are building towards having a strong team for the 2005-06 season and
will go through some growing pains this year in order to get there. They won’t
be blessed with a lot of offense and will have to grind out low scoring
victories, but they are always tough in the Windsor arena and should sport a
good home record.

 

Offensively the Spits should
be led in scoring by Ryan Garlock (Nashville) who came over from Guelph
last January. Garlock has a good range of offensive talent but has to put it
all together game in and game out and avoid the slumps that he has gone through
in his first two seasons in the league. He can be a bit passive at times and
the Spits would like to keep a fire lit under him this season. David Lomas scored
20 goals last season and the Spits hope to see him improve on that total this
year and with a spot on the right side on one of the top two lines and regular
power play time, he should be able to meet expectations. Steve Downie brings
energy to the team and loves to mix it up in the corners and will drop the
gloves, he is the type of agitator that teams love to have to throw against
opponents to get them off their game. Ryan Donally (Calgary) has the job
of leading the checking line; the Spits would like to see the big man
contribute more than the eight goals he scored last year.

 

Overage veteran John
Scott Dickson
will challenge for the team scoring title after finishing
third last season with 52 points. Tom Mannino had an awful rookie year,
suffering from mono. When he returned
he was stuck on the fourth line with the Knights, he spent some time playing
defense, he was traded to Windsor, scored one goal in his first game and then
went scoreless the rest of the season. He struggled with his weight during and
after the season. The young American has lots of skills including speed and
good shot, but he has relied on his skill for most of his career, he now has to
make a commitment to fitness, hard work and learning more about the game,
because at this level he can’t rely on raw skill anymore. Overall this is a
group of forwards who won’t frighten too many goalies, and they have to play
patient hockey, bury the opportunities that they create and grind it out.

 

On defense, the team relies
heavily on Mitch Maunu (Chicago). He is over 6’2 and weighs around 210
pounds and he uses his size very effectively in his own end. He will see a lot
of the opponents’ top lines and a regular shift on the special teams. Overage
veteran Paul Giallonardo has a similar build to Maunu, but plays more of
a stay at home style. Iain McPhee and Mike Weber round out the
top four, and rookie Jonathon Sciacca will be broken in slowly on the
third pair of defense with Paul Bortignon.

 

In net, overage veteran Brad
Topping
will get the majority of the starts. The five-year veteran has
teased the league with flashes of his potential abilities, but has never quite
put it all together in one season.

 

Saginaw
Spirit

 

After years of poor results,
a franchise relocation and a lot of losing, the time is ripe for the Spirit to
take some strides forward. The basement finishes have provided the team with
some high draft choices and as the players mature, the team will move up the
ladder. The team is starting the season with only two overage players, and in a
season where there are a lot of overage candidates due to the NHL lockout,
their choices are interesting as they brought in Chris Bain and Thomas
Harrison,
players not exactly associated with being impact players. New Coach
Doug Lidster should give this team a shot in the arm in his first year behind
the bench in the OHL.

 

The Spirit forwards will
rely heavily on one line for scoring. Center Sean Courtney and
right-winger Jean-Michel Rizk (Minnesota) might finish one-two in
scoring on the team. Bain will be the team’s enforcer and does a decent job in
a grinding role and can be an effective forechecker when he keeps his gloves
on. The Spirit will look for scoring by committee and with a lot of 17 and
18-year-olds in the lineup, they are looking to next year to be their year, but
the tryouts are starting now.

 

Paul Bissonnette (Pittsburgh) will see a ton of ice time on the point.
Sophomore Patrick McNeil will be counted on for a big year as well. The
first overall pick in the OHL 2003 draft is a bit on the smallish side, but is
an excellent skater. The Spirit chose another slick smallish defenseman with
their first round pick in 2004, the Spirit picked Matt Corrente second
over all. Harrison will be the biggest defender on the team at 6’2 and 227
pounds; he has been mostly a depth defenseman in Kitchener during his career
there. Georgi Misharin (Minnesota) will be a key man on the point as his
27 points led the Spirit defensemen in scoring last season.

 

Mike Brown will get a lot of starts for the Spirit between the
pipes, he put up respectable numbers in 51 games last year and may play even
more this year.

 

Sault
Ste. Marie Greyhounds

 

The Greyhounds have been in
a funk for a few years and this year they might hit rock bottom. Already off to
a bad start, look for the team to move their veterans in December and early
January if the team can’t turn itself around.

 

Jeff Carter is a guy who can
win a game by himself with his great package of size, skill and shot, but he
will almost be assuredly traded to a contender at some point this year. Carter
had an off year last year but that didn’t diminish his luster at all, and he
did have a great World Junior Tournament. The Flyers did not sign him or Mike
Richards
of the Kitchener Rangers before the lockout, which was a big
gamble as they could lose the rights to these elite prospects depending on how
the lockout shakes out.

 

Overage winger Blair
Jarrett
(first cousin of Pat Jarrett of Owen Sound) has returned to
his hometown for his last OHL season after a good run with the Mississauga Ice
Dogs. The local boy might be able to score 30 goals after popping 18 last
season with the Dogs. Tyler Kennedy (Pittsburgh) and Jeff Larsh finished
fourth and fifth in team scoring and they should be able to improve on their
totals this year. Overage Reg Thomas will be looking to shake the injury
bug that seems to hit him every other year and finally break out and score some
serious goals in his last OHL season. 2004 first round pick Ryan McInerney may
be small at 5’9 and 170 pounds but he will be given plenty of ice to prove
himself on this rebuilding team.

 

On defense, Jordan Smith (Anaheim)
will be counted on heavily by the Greyhounds, and the 19-year-old defensive
pest might be moved to a team looking to shore up their blue line for a playoff
run. Veterans Brad Staubitz and Martin Tuma will be seeing a lot
of ice as well for the Greyhounds.

 

Jakub Cech will move from the backup role into the starting role
and will see a lot of shots this year on this weak team.

 

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Future. Do not duplicate without
permission of the editorial staff.