Last season, the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors almost fulfilled what was expected to be their destiny from the beginning of the season, falling just short of winning the Memorial Cup in their home rink by losing to the Saint John Sea Dogs (this after failing to capture the OHL crown losing to the Owen Sound Attack.)
Long seen as the weaker OHL conference, there are a number of teams looking to take advantage of the relative tumult in the Western Conference and allow this half of the bracket to stake its claim as the superior side. And with a marquee squad in Niagara poised to take the next step, don’t be surprised if many teams find the OHL Memorial Cup berth to be as difficult to reach as an uphill struggle against the Falls.
Barrie Colts (Last Season: 15-49-2-2)
With a father who enjoyed an 11-year career in the NHL, Guelph Storm forward Carter Sandlak would seem to have big skates to fill. And, although he’s had a less-than-stellar start to the 2010-11 OHL campaign, he said the added pressure that comes from having a name known throughout the hockey world is something he relishes.
“I kind of like that pressure. You have to prove to everybody every night that you can play with these guys,” Sandlak said. “Growing up in a hockey family, it is good, but my dad says he’d be happy with whatever I did — it didn’t have to be hockey — he’d be supporting me 100 percent. But if I wanted to get a career out of this, then he’d help me wherever he could.”
And there are the obvious advantages that come from having a father familiar with the game and what it takes to make it to the NHL.
“Growing up he was my coach for a couple of years. He just tells me the little things to do that you have to do well, the things that people notice. That’s the kind of stuff,” he said. “He’s really not that much involved right now — he’s back home doing his own job. I have my coaches and my agent telling me things that I need to work on, so they’re helping me with that right now.”
With only a handful of prospects still on the NHL bubble, by this point of the young season — only a handful of games into the campaign — most OHL teams, and their observers, have a solid sense of how the teams will match up.
This is the third of four division-by-division previews, looking at the key changes, additions, and prospects for all of the Ontario Hockey League’s 20 franchises. The OHL, as always, remains a league to watch as the past four first-overall draft picks have come from this subsection of the CHL.
These previews will be presented in alphabetical order, continuing with the Mid-Western Division of the OHL’s Western Conference.
The Windsor Spitfires completed an unlikely comeback at last year’s Memorial Cup, eventually raising the championship trophy in a thrilling final. They’re loaded up for a second trip but will face stiff competition from London Knights who will be looking to avenge their heartbreaking semi-final loss last year.
All eyes will be in the West again this season, as the conference also features some of the top prospects for the 2010 NHL entry draft, with new teammates Taylor Hall and Cam Fowler hoping to boost their individual profiles in conjunction with the Spitfires’ fortunes.
Colorado’s second-round pick last June, and the former first-overall OHL draft pick, Ryan O’Reilly should enjoy a breakout year once he’s returned to the Otters. The Avalanche have been impressed with O’Reilly’s performance to date in camp, signing him to a three-year deal, but he’s expected to return for another year of junior.