OHL re-opens for business

December 29, 2015

Play has resumed in the Ontario Hockey League and the trade embargo has been lifted following the Christmas holiday break.

As the OHL enters the second half of the 2015-2016 season, at least five teams are poised to take a realistic run at the league championship — Erie Otters, London Knights, Kitchener Rangers, Kingston Frontenacs and Barrie Colts.

Meanwhile, there are tight races shaping up for the eighth-and-final playoff spots in both the Western and Eastern Conferences.

There’s a Western sandwich featuring four teams from sixth to ninth places separated by only five points — Owen Sound Attack, Soo Greyhounds, Saginaw Spirit and the Flint Firebirds.

Located less than 40 miles apart along Interstate 75 in mid Michigan, former minor pro foes Saginaw and Flint have formed a fierce OHL rivalry that will be further enhanced by a playoff chase involving both teams.

This season is a first for the OHL in Flint and the former Plymouth Whalers franchise has not disappointed at the gate with routine home crowds of more than 3,000 on hand to watch the Firebirds, who are well-promoted and marketed by an energetic front office that is overseen by president Costa Papista.

And over in the Eastern market, just two points stand between the reigning Memorial Cup champion Oshawa Generals and the Hamilton Bulldogs as they battle for the last playoff spot.

On the trade front, with the deadline to deal overage players set for January 8 and the last day to move all others being January 11, contending teams will use the lure of multiple, recycled, future second-round draft picks to try to bolster their championship aspirations.

Veteran players from lower teams will be dangled as trade bait and a number of seasoned goalies could be on the move, including Guelph Storm overager Justin Nichols, Soo Greyhounds 19-year old Brandon Halverson and Sudbury Wolves 18-year old Zack Bowman.

PHOTO: Flint Firebirds are chasing a Western Conference playoff spot in their first season in the mid Michigan city.

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