Soo Greyhounds have maintained first place despite a record-setting win streak by the Saginaw Spirit. Flint Firebirds are holding serve in the middle of the court while fourth seed Sarnia Sting is on a skid and the last place Windsor Spitfires have responded well to a coaching change.
And that is the way it is in the West Division of the Ontario Hockey League at the one third mark of the 2023-2024 regular season schedule.
At the top, the Greyhounds have been solid if not spectacular with 32 points from a record of 15-7-2. The Greyhounds missed the playoffs in 2022-2023 with a record of 20-33-15 and fans in Hound Town were calling for head coach John Dean to be fired. But Dean and the Greyhounds have rebounded with a nice beginning to the ’23-24 campaign.
Overall consistency on the forward lines and defensive pairings has been a Greyhound trait to date and the goal-tending has been acceptable. Import defenseman Arttu Karki leads the Greyhounds in goals with 15 and forwards Justin Cloutier, Owen Allard and Jordan D’Intino have put in 13, 12 and 10 respectively.
Indeed, Greyhound beat writer Brad Coccimiglio, appearing on the Hockey North Show Podcast, has noted that the Soo team’s steadiness and stability has stood out to him this season.
Over to Saginaw, the Spirit has already gained entry into the 2024 Memorial Cup national tournament as host entry. And after a sluggish start to the season, esteemed general manager Dave Drinkill has spruced up the Spirit with several trade acquisitions and Saginaw recently set a new franchise record with 10 straight victories.
Among other productive performers, Sault Ste. Marie product Calem Mangone has been a point per game producer for Saginaw as a 19-year old forward with seven goals, 16 assists in 22 outings.
As for Flint, after losing their first two games of the season in one-sided fashion, the Firebirds fired head coach Ted Dent and replaced him with Paul Flache. The move has paid off as the Firebirds now have a respectable record of 11-11-2.
Gavin Hayes has already scored 17 goals to lead the Firebirds while Coulson Pitre and Zach Giroux have potted 12 apiece and Braeden Kressler has netted 11.
Meanwhile, in Sarnia, a promising start to the season for the rebuilding Sting has gone south. Sarnia has now lost seven games in succession and takes a record of 9-15-0 into play this week.
A bright spot for the Sting has been the play of 19-year old forward Tyson Doucette, who is tied for the team goal scoring lead with 11. A Sault Ste. Marie product, Doucette made Sarnia as a free agent walk-on last season and has now taken his game to a higher level. Regular season and playoffs included in ’22-23, Doucette scored just five goals in 72 games for the Sting.
At the bottom of the standings, a turnaround may be in the making for the Spitfires of Windsor. Floundering in last place overall with a record 4-16-1 and losers of eight straight games, the Spitfires fired first year head coach and promoted assistant coach Casey Torres to interim bench boss.
Then, against all odds and with general manager Billy Bowler joining Torres behind the bench, the Spitfires headed on the road this past weekend for three games against East Division opponents and came away with two big wins. Impressively, the two wins for the Spitfires came against the top two teams in the East Division, namely the Peterborough Petes and Ottawa 67’s.
Top players for the Spitfires thus far this season have been forwards Liam Greentree and Oliver Peer. Greentree has 16 goals while Peer, a free agent signing from two years ago, has hit the back of the net 13 times.