It was just a short time ago that the Soo Greyhounds were not only finishing atop the five team West Division of the Ontario Hockey League with regularity but were annual contenders among the 10 members of the Western Conference.
Not only did the Greyhounds fall from grace during the 2022-2023 season but they were one of four teams of the 20 who make up the OHL to not even make the playoffs. An ability to win one-goal games contributed to the Greyhounds missing the playoffs in ’22-23 and that is one area where the Red and White needs to get better at this 2023-2024 season.
The Greyhounds open the ’23-24 OHL regular season on Sept. 29 and for starters, they will be looking to climb the rung in the West Division and overtake any combination of the Windsor Spitfires, Flint Firebirds, Saginaw Spirit and Sarnia Sting.
Better goal-tending in ’23-24 than they got in ’22-23 will be paramount for the Greyhounds, who hope to have holdover Charlie Schenkel healthy this season. As it stands now, Schenkel is the Greyhounds no. 1 goalie with rookie Landon Miller being prepped for backup duty. Miller played very well for the Soo Thunderbirds in ’22-23 in backstopping them to the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League championship series where they ultimately lost to the Timmins Rock four games to two.
Strengths for the Greyhounds this season figure to be down the middle with budding star Bryce McConnell-Barker and blue chip defensemen Andrew Gibson and Kirill Kudryavtsev. All three are National Hockey League draft picks — McConnell-Barker by the New York Rangers, Gibson by the Detroit Red Wings and Kudryavtsev by the Vancouver Canucks. By the way, it still amazes me how the Windsor Spitfires missed out on the aforementioned Andrew Gibson at the 2021 OHL priority selections draft. Gibson, who is a hometown Windsor prioduct, was passed over repeatedly by the Spitfires and the Greyhounds were able to steal the standout defender in the fourth round.
Meanwhile, a newcomer who could become a real impact player for the Greyhounds this season is overage winger Jack Beck, who was recently acquired from the Ottawa 67’s for a pair of high, future draft picks. Beck has played in three full seasons in the OHL for Ottawa and has averaged just under a point per game with 41 goals, 75 assists and 116 points in 137 regular season games outings. In 15 career playoff games with Ottawa, Beck has eight goals, eight assists, 16 points.
WILD WEST … AND WINDSOR
Armed with extra draft picks, Saginaw Spirit general manager Dave Drinkill is expected to add more veteran talent to his team as the ’23-24 OHL season progresses. Saginaw will play host to the 2024 Memorial Cup national championship tournament. And as the host team, the Spirit will get automatic entry into the Mem Cup event. Drinkill is already one of the shrewdest GMs in the entire OHL and has an exceptional reputation for making good trades … If I were to list the best general managers in the Western Conference it would be a toss up as to who is would be no. 1 from among Drinkill, Kyle Raftis of the Greyhounds, George Burnett of the Guelph Storm, Mark Hunter of the London Knights and Billy Bowler of the Windsor Spitfires … I have spent much of this month in Windsor visiting with family. As far as staying in Windsor and being close to the downtown, I couldn’t walk past the old Windsor Arena without thinking about the number of games that I watched in the old barn before it ceased to become home to the OHL Spitfires in 2008. Anyone who ever watched a Spitfires game at the old barn can attest to its unique structure, which included a smaller ice surface of 195 feet by 80 feet as opposed to the standard 200 X 85. To be sure, old Windsor Arena was one of the more intimidating and hostile rinks for opposing OHL teams to play in over the years Located on the corner of Wyandotte and McDougall streets, Windsor Arena had many nicknames. The best two were the “Old Barn” and the “Madhouse on McDougall” … One of the wildest OHL games of the many I saw at Windsor Arena over the years came in late October of 1982 when the Spitfires out-scored the visiting Sudbury Wolves by a 10-7 margin. In that game, Spitfires forward Greg Gravel figured in on nine of Windsor’s 10 goals with a record breaking performance that included a hat trick to go along with six assists … By the way, the Spitfires of that 1982-1983 season were coached by good guy Marcel Pronovost, a legendary National Hockey League defenseman who played a combined 20 NHL seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.