Many surprises have taken place a little over a month into the 1999-2000 OHL season.
There are the usual surprise teams that have made early surges into the top of their division
and there have been the teams that were predicted to be strong contenders that slipped to the
basement. But the biggest surprise that has taken place that has fans around the province taking
note is the production of the league’s rookies early in the season.
Usually, teams this early in the season tend to lean on their older, more experienced
players to get the team on the right track and to help the younger players adjust to the league.
This OHL season has been somewhat of an exception as the rookies have stepped up and have become
the players that team relies on in the late stages of a close game. In most cases, these players
have delivered. Derek Roy, the 16 year old rookie for the Kitchener Rangers, is currently leading
the league in rookie scoring and is also leading his team. This is common in the league, where
the leading scorer for the team is a rookie. It represents a strong future for the league and
many great players on the horizon.
The player referred to by some as simply “The Bear” played for the St.
Albert Saints from 1981 through to 1983 and judging by his stellar career
both on and off the ice it almost seems like the Alberta Junior Hockey
League mission statement was written for him.
It states in part, “Our League supports its players through assistance in
their academic, athletic and personal lives throughout their pursuit of
Berezan has certainly excelled both athletically and academically. He spent
parts of ten seasons in the NHL, appearing in two Stanley Cup Finals. He
also took advantage of the scholarship he achieved through hockey and is now
an accomplished financial advisor with Nesbitt-Burns in Calgary.
If the Saints are in the lead in the dying seconds of a hockey game, you can be assured that Kris Liber will be on the ice.
Liber, 19, is one of the top defensive forwards in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He is a premiere faceoff man, a tenacious penalty killer and an agitator. If the AJHL kept track of hits as a statistic like the NHL does, Liber would without a doubt be among the league leaders.
He stands at 5-foot-7 and weighs in at 170 pounds but plays six inches taller and 30 pounds heavier.
“I really enjoy my role. Give me penalties and I’ll kill them,” he said last season.
Liber became a fixture on the St. Albert Saints hockey club at the start of the 1997-98 AJHL playoffs and hasn’t looked back since. He played the majority of the 97-98 season with the Maple Leaf Athletic Club (Midget AAA) and had 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists) in 32 games. When the AJHL playoffs started up the Saints took the opportunity to put Liber on the roster. It was invaluable experience for Liber as they went on to win the AJHL Championship and play in the Doyle Cup-the annual playoff between the best of the AJHL and BCHL-against the Surrey Eagles.
“It was a great experience when I got picked up by the Saints,” he said. “They treat you like gold. It was an unbelievable feeling to even go to the Doyle Cup.”
Liber lists the victory in seven games over the Fort Saskatchewan Traders in the AJHL championship as his favourite moment as a Saint to date.
After a month of nearly horrible hockey for the New York Rangers, it is grading time. Being the New York Rangers, this will be short as there are few rookies. So we will add grades to some other players as well, most of them 2nd year and those in the AHL, at Hartford.
Mike York 5.10 170 (USA)
York has taken full opportunity of being the No. 2 center by default. York possesses a nice touch, hard shot, and never say die work ethic. York has played well through the first month of the season, and is entrenched at No. 2 but receives No. 1 center minutes. York, now on a line with Adam Graves and Theo Fleury, has only helped bring up the play of the two struggling veterans. As of now, Mike York is the top center on this New York Rangers club.
Kim Johnsson 6.01 188 (SWE)
Johnsson came in to the camp as an unknown commodity. Being the last pick in the draft, Johnsson went out to prove something. He played as Sweden`s best defender at the World Championships in Norway catching the eye of General Manager Neil Smith. Johnsson still makes the rookie mistake, but has shown that he can hit, skate and pass. A solid team player, Johnsson has moved steadily up the depth chart and is more valuable than anyother Rangers defender this side of Brian Leetch. Johnsson plays like a seasoned veteran and if he is kept in New York through these worried times, he will be a top NHL defender. At this point, Johnsson is the best Rangers’ defenseman in my book. He needs about 15 pounds to his frame, but that will come.
Entering the seventh week of the WHL West Division season things are beginning to take shape as the large descrepancy in games played amongst the teams is begining to dwindle. The Prince George Cougars currently lead the division with 22 points from eighteen games played while the second place Spokane Chiefs have twenty points from sixteen games to this point. The Tri-City Americans and Seattle Thunderbirds follow in third and fourth respectively, with the Ams having seventeen points from fourteen games played and the T-Birds with fifteen points from thirteen games. Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers have fifteen points as well, but Kelowna has played eighteen games while the Blazers lead the division with nineteen games under their belts and the Portland Winterhawks trail the field with seven points from sixteen games. My preseason picks now look dismal as the only team I’m even close to is the Portland Winterhawks in last, which I predicted but so did everyone else in the world.