A lot of people know about the Soo Greyhounds and their history of having good teams and being able to win games at just the right time. What people don’t realize is the fact that a lot of very good players got started in Sault Ste Marie. Wayne Gretzky and Charlie Simmer are both prime examples. Also, there were some players that didn’t quite make it into the NHL but still had tremendous junior careers (Ralph Intranuovo). I’m here to take a look at some of those former players and talk about their careers in the Sault.
Let’s start with Wayne Gretzky. “The Great One” spent one season with the Greyhounds and it was a magnificent one. Gretzky played with the Greyhounds as a 16-year-old and led the team in scoring with 70 goals and 182 points (holds OHL record for most assists, 112, and points, 182, by an OHL rookie). He was also the 1st Greyhound player to have his jersey retired.
Wayne Groulx was probably the second best Greyhound player ever behind Gretzky. Groulx spent 4 seasons with the Greyhounds and led the team in scoring in all 4 seasons. Groulx sits tied for second with Dale McCourt on the OHL’s all-time list for career points (477), just 2 points behind Stan Drulia.
Charlie Simmer, who was a member of the Los Angeles Kings Triple Crown Line, spent some time in the Sault also. He was a fan-favorite and was depended on to score during his only year with the team (1973-74). He scored 45 goals and 99 points in his only season in a Greyhounds uniform.
In every sport, there is one day that is both filled with anticipation and dread – Draft Day. This is the day that players hope that the major league teams will feel that they are good enough to join their organization.
For the NHL, the 1999 Entry Draft was held in the FleetCenter, home of the Boston Bruins. Otters Tim Connolly, Sean Dixon, Ryan Lee, Jason Baird and J.F. Perras were hoping that their names would be called at the Draft. There was no question that Connolly would be drafted, as he was slated to go high in the First Round. After that though, it was anybody’s guess when and where in the Draft the other Otters would go.
From Waterloo, Ontario, Sean Dixon is a second year defenseman for the Otters. While not an offensive defenseman, he has been a steady player on the blueline. In the two years with Erie, Sean has only scored 2 goals and 20 assists in 113 games. In spite of his lack of scoring, Sean’s play has been noticed. Twice he has played for the Ontario Under-17 Team at the 1997 and 1998 International Hockey Championships, held during the Christmas holidays in Kitchener, Ontario, where Team Ontario won gold medals. Dixon has also excelled off the ice, winning the 1997-98 Otters Scholastic Player of the Year, sharing it with fellow draftee, Tim Connolly.
Draft Day was a pretty exciting day for Sean, as it did live up to expectations. “Just to sit in the stands and stare down at all the NHL logos and personnel, and to know that you are a part of it, is a pretty amazing feeling in itself,” stated Dixon.
The Soo Greyhounds 1998-99 season was a very successful one. They won 10 straight games and improved their point total from 1997-98 by 23 points. The 1999-2000 season looks to be a good one as the Greyhounds have 16 returning players. At the draft the Greyhounds also added 19-year-old left-winger Brent Theobald. He was acquired in a trade with the Missisauga IceDogs at the draft.
The Greyhounds are in a good position because most of the teams in the division are losing a lot of players. The Plymouth Whalers for example are possibly losing the likes of Harold Druken, Adam Colagiacomo, Paul Mara and Robert Holsinger.
In goal the Greyhounds are in very good shape because Jake McCracken is definitely coming back and Jason Flick may be back as one of the Greyhounds three overages. McCracken will be looking to bounce back from an off-year where he didn’t play his best hockey. Flick, if he does come back will be looking to repeat his tremendous performance from last season. Remember though, it’s not a guarantee that he is coming back.
The defensemen on last season’s club were pretty good. The problem is two of last year’s defensemen (Dan Passero and Rob Mulick) are candidates for the three overage spots on this year’s team. However, they did have five other strong defensemen.
One great thing about watching Junior Major hockey is seeing the future stars of hockey. Ever since he was drafted by the Erie Otters in 1997, forward Tim Connolly was touted as a high draft choice in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft and being a future star of the NHL.
On June 26th at the FleetCenter in Boston, the first part of the above statement came true. The New York Islanders, who had the 5th selection overall, selected Connolly. While it is quite an achievement for a player to be selected in the first round, Tim had two other noticeable achievements with his selection by the Islanders. Tim was the first player selected from the CHL, and the OHL, and was the first North American born player selected in the draft. A native of Baldwinsville, NY, Connolly stated that, “It is a great honor to be the first North American player selected in the draft”.
Connolly has been a standout player for the Otters the past two years. Tim has dazzled Erie fans, OHL fans and OHL opponents with his superb skating and puck-handling skills. During the 97-98 year with Erie, where he won the Otters Rookie of the Year, Tim scored 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points. During the 98-99 season, Connolly scored 34 goals and 34 assists for 68, in spite of playing 13 fewer games. In a February game against the Windsor Spitfires, Connolly suffered a broken leg, which ended his play for the remainder of the 98-99 season. In spite of this injury, Connolly still finished as the leading scorer for the Otters.
The Mississauga Ice Dogs innaugural season was tough one, to say the least. They finished last in the OHL with a record of 4W-61L-3T. The Ice Dogs were also dead last in goals for (145) and lead the league in goals against (426). If there was any silver lining to last season’s poor showing, it was that it enabled them to select first overall at this year’s OHL Entry Draft. This pick landed the Ice Dogs arguably the best junior hockey prospect since Eric Lindros, in the form of Jason Spezza. Under the tutelage of coach Jim Hulton, who returns for another season, look for the Ice Dogs to make some improvement over last year. Of course, when you’re at the bottom, the only way to go is up.
1999-2000 SEASON PREVIEW
The Ice Dogs will be looking to junior phenom Jason Spezza to help with their offensive attack. Last season as an underager with the Brampton Battalion, Spezza had 18 goals and 44 assists in 58 games. Also expected to improve on last season’s totals is centre Lou Dickenson. The Ice Dogs 1st OHL Draft pick in 1998, 2nd overall, had a total of 19 goals and 27 assists in 62 games in 1998-1999. Overage goal production should come from captain Scott Page, who is expected to return this season. He lead the Ice Dogs scoring last year with 20 goals and 30 assists in 66 games. Other key offensive contributors are Fraser Clair (6-12-59games, Chad Wiseman (11-25-64games), and Sebastien Savage (10-15-57games).
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