Quest for best in OHL West


Randy Russon
By
October 20, 2019

Saginaw Spirit has won four straight games to improve its record to 8-4-1. Windsor Spitfires have been a surprise with a 7-3-1 showing to date. And the upstart Flint Firebirds have the best winning percentage — .700 — in the West Division of the Ontario Hockey League with a 7-3-0 mark.

Meanwhile, the Soo Greyhounds have cooled off after a 4-0-0 start but are still over the .500 mark. And the hard-luck Sarnia Sting is airing some buzz after losing its first seven games of the 2019-2020 OHL season.

To be sure, in a 20-team, four-division OHL that breathes overall balance, the West side slate is as stout and sturdy as it gets.

Let us take a quick tour of the wild West of the OHL.

SAGINAW (8-4-1, 17 points) — The Spirit is as offensively talented as any team in the OHL, a dangerous lot of veteran skaters that can turn out the lights on an opposing team in a flash.

If there is a bit of a downside in Saginaw it has been a nagging habit of giving up third period leads as Spirit coach Chris Lazary has seemingly shown a lack of adjustment compared to other coaches.

Still, with 12 goals from Damien Giroux to date and 11 more from overage stalwart Cole Coskey, Saginaw spells a pure offensive arsenal that also features forward Cole Perfetti, who has picked up 24 points through the first 13 games of the season.

Taking full advantage of the generous ice time that he gets, the only Saginaw player who seemingly gets more minutes per game than Perfetti is the starting goalie, be it Tristan Lennox or Marshall Frappier.

A few words about Frappier, who has seen time in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League with the French River Rapids.

A retread who had previous OHL stops with the Sudbury Wolves and Kingston Frontenacs with little success, Frappier has a 3-0-0 record with a 1.67 goals against average and .926 save percentage since Saginaw general manager Dave Drinkill rescued the big goalie from the scrap yard.

WINDSOR (7-3-1, 15 points) — Forward Tyler Angle has nine goals and import defenseman Ruben Rafkin is on a point per game clip for the Spitfires, who have that 7-3-1 record in 11 games despite the fact that their goalies have combined for a sub-par .874 save percentage.

I can’t see the Spitfires keeping up the pace unless they get better net-minding than they have so far. But credit to coach Trevor Letowski for getting it going in a so far, so good manner in Windsor.

FLINT (7-3-0, 14 points) — The Firebirds may be the best balanced team in the West Division, thanks to the careful construction of general manager Barclay Branch and his associates.

There is spread-out scoring led by overager Jake Durham with seven goals, captain Ty Dellandrea with five, and four apiece from Evgeniy Oksentyuk, rookie first-rounder Brennan Othmann, and hulking defenseman Vladislav Kolyachonok.

Another defenseman, Riley McCourt, has 11 points and 10 games, and the Firebirds recently obtained skilled, seasoned, offensive-minded defender Owen Lalonde from the reigning OHL champion Guelph Storm.

Meanwhile, like the aforementioned Othmann, second-round rookie forward Braeden Kressler has also adapted well to the OHL. The 5-foot-8, 155-pound Kressler has two goals, four assists, six points in his first 10 OHL matches.

Flint has, arguably, the best 1-2 goalie tandem in the division with overage Anthony Popovich, who back-stopped Guelph to last season’s championship, and holdover Luke Cavallin.

After missing the playoffs in each of the past two seasons with an overall record of 36-89-11, Flint is the real deal this time around as coach Eric Wellwood and the Firebirds are on a quest to be the best in the West.

SOO (6-5-1, 13 points) — The Greyhounds were bound to take a bit of a step back after averaging 45 wins over the previous seven seasons.

And there has been a noticeable drop in the Greyhounds overall play since winning four straight games to begin this season. But keep in mind that the Hounds have been missing 19-year old center Barrett Hayton, who has started the season in the National Hockey League with the Arizona Coyotes.

Besides, the Hounds have not received high-grade goaltending. Overage acquisition Christian Propp has been inconsistent and backup Ethan Taylor does not seem to be advancing his game in his second OHL season.

Meanwhile, Hounds general manager Kyle Raftis made a nice move last week by obtaining slick, right-handed shooting defenseman Billy Constantinou in a trade with Kingston.

Also on the bright side, forwards Rory Kerins, Jaromir Pytlik, Jaden Peca and local product Cole Mackay are all scoring at a point per game clip for second year Hounds coach John Dean.

SARNIA (3-7-0, 6 points) — The Sting lost its first seven games of this season before knocking off the Barrie Colts, then stunning no. 1 ranked Oshawa in handing the Generals their first loss of the 2019-2020 season, prior to cuffing the Kingston Frontenacs.

For its first nine games, Sarnia had to do without overage forward and team captain Ryan McGregor, who injured himself before the start of the season.

Now that he has returned, Sarnia again has a born leader in McGregor, who has a reputation as the consummate team player for Sting coach Derian Hatcher.

And there have been other positive signs aplenty in Sarnia.

Overage forward Sean Josling, who originally signed with the Sting as a free agent in 2016, is averaging two points per game. Another forward, Ryan Roth, has averaged a goal a game since being obtained from the Greyhounds a few weeks ago.

Then there is point per game forward Jacob Perreault, point per game defenseman Eric Hjorth and franchise forward Jamieson Rees, who is clicking at a two points per game pace since returning from a six-game league suspension.

Also creating a buzz around the Sting is 16-year old rookie goalie Ben Gaudreau, who Sarnia took in the first round, seventh overall, at this year’s OHL priority selections draft.

After finally recovering from a knee injury that he sustained at the OHL Gold Cup prospects tournament back in May, Goudreau made his Sarnia debut a spectacular one last week.

In remarkable form, Gaudreau stopped 49 of 50 shots as Sarnia won its first game of the season with a 5-1 win over Barrie. He has since won his second start, a 7-4 victory over Kingston.

Gaudreau has made the jump to Sarnia and the OHL from the North Bay Trappers of the Great North Midget Hockey League.

PHOTO: Flint Firebirds defenseman Ryan McCourt, in recent OHL action against the North Bay Battalion. (Photo by Todd Boone.)


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