Major question mark between the pipes aside, Soo Greyhounds figure to be a formidable force once the games begin on the pandemic affected version of a 2020-2021 Ontario Hockey League season.
With seasoned skill and developed depth on the forward lines and at the defense position, the Greyhounds are set up for success in whatever form or length the anticipated, abbreviated OHL season takes.
With fingers crossed that someone can step up and replace graduated overage goalie Bailey Brkin, the Greyhounds main question mark ahead of the looming season is who will tend twine for what is perhaps the most important position on just about any hockey team.
With Brkin in goal during the 2019-2020 season, the Greyhounds were a playoff team with a record well above the .500 mark. Simply stated, the statistics don’t lie.
While Brkin flashed a very fine record of 17-8-3 for the Greyhounds, the trio of Nick Malik, Ethan Taylor and Christian Propp had a combined, disastrous mark of 12-23-1 in the Soo net.
Malik, in particular, turned out to be an over-rated flop after his Bay St. billboard arrival in the Soo from the Czech Republic midway through the 2019-2020 season. Despite being gifted the starter’s job by Hounds head coach John Dean — what the hell was Dean thinking? — Malik won only five of 17 decisions in posting a lousy 5-11-1 record and doing little to justify playing so many games ahead of Brkin, who had clearly earned the no. 1 position with a record to prove it.
At any rate, with a 2002 birth date, Malik has considerable OHL eligibility remaining. And Taylor, who was born in 2001, also has OHL time left.
Moving on from the uncertainty of the goalie position, general manager Kyle Raftis has put Dean and the Hounds coaching staff in a good situation for the unprecedented season ahead.
Including scoring leader Zack Trott and his 25 goals, 41 assists, 66 points as a probable overage skater for this season, the Greyhounds can also return fellow forwards Rory Kerins (30-29-59), Tye Karte (25-28-53) and local lad Cole MacKay (25-26-51) to the forward lines.
And the department of defense includes the high scoring duo of Billy Constantinou (9-44-53) and Robert Calisti (18-32-50) along with the very valuable Ryan O’Rourke (7-30-37.) O’Rourke is a top National Hockey League prospect of the Minnesota Wild.
HUB CITIES SCENARIO
To be sure, as COVID-19 put a halt to the 2019-2020 season a year ago this month, the OHL is poised to finally return to the ice for a shortened version of a 2020-2021 campaign.
A normal OHL regular season is 68 games for each of its 20 teams. But there is very little that is normal in this age of hockey as it relates to COVID-19.
To be sure, the OHL has never been closer to ushering in the 2020-2021 season, with the optimism stemming from statements made by Ontario’s minister of sport Lisa MacLeod, who noted that she is “feeling great” about the league’s chances of returning to play soon in what would be an abbreviated schedule of 20-25 regular season games per team.
And OHL commissioner David Branch noted that the league is “encouraged with the progress being made in our discussions with government and public health … we look forward to finalizing an arrangement that will get our players back on the ice safely, and as quickly as possible.”
Now, it’s up to Branch, the Ontario government and public health and medical officials to finalize a return to play that would likely begin with OHL training camps and then a move to hub cities to begin play.
All of which can be tricky, challenging, risky and costly.
The most logical and likely sketch for an abbreviated OHL season would be played out within a bubble system with host cities — a scene which would require millions of dollars in government funding for testing and housing teams and approved by Ontario medical officer of health Dr. David Williams.
As for the hub city format, the National Hockey League went that route for its 2020 playoffs that included 24 teams. Toronto was the hub city for the 12 Eastern Conference teams and Edmonton provided the same for the 12 Western Conference clubs.
The OHL and its 20 teams are divided between Eastern and Western Conferences. Seventeen of the OHL’s 20 teams are based throughout various regions of Ontario.
Close proximity to Toronto, for all reasons associated to travel and accommodations, might favour nearby Mississauga from the Eastern Conference and Kitchener from the Western Conference as hub cities.
Mississauga, Hamilton, Niagara, Barrie, Oshawa, Peterborough, Ottawa, Kingston, North Bay and Sudbury all house Eastern Conference teams.
Kitchener, Windsor, Sarnia, London, Guelph, Owen Sound, Sault Ste. Marie and the American cities of Saginaw, Flint and Erie are all home to Western Conference teams.