Western wear of the OHL

February 14, 2024

Let us venture here and there in a Western Conference of the Ontario Hockey League that features preferable story lines and much more punch and potency than the weak side Eastern Conference.

It is clearly upper level by juxtaposition. The Western Conference has three teams — maybe four — that are seemingly superior than the first place club in the Eastern Conference.

Not only that, the three teams that are chasing the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference just have that appearance and makeup of being a step above the Eastern Conference laggards.

At any rate, with that 90-plus word intro of one’s observations firmly entrenched in print, let us take that aforementioned pledge around the Western world of the OHL.


Gavin Hayes

Having rebounded from an unmitigated disaster of a 2022-2023 season that resulted in them missing the playoffs, the Soo Greyhounds are a real deal of a team in 2023-2024. They can play with — and beat, on a consistent basis — their fellow contenders. And the Hounds of the Red and White have shown to be just as dangerous and productive on the road as they are at home.

At times, it is easy to spot some of the flaws that go with being a top team that is under regular and routine scrutiny. But the Hounds have lethal offensive weapons led by forwards Gavin Hayes and Bryce McConnell Barker and a terrific troika of defensemen in Andrew Gibson, Arttu Karki and Kirill Kudryavstev. All five are National Hockey League draft picks.

And really, overall balance may be the best of what the Hounds have to offer. To be sure, as many as eight Hounds could be at the 20 goal mark by the time the curtain closes on the regular season slate.

As far as goal tending, Charlie Schenkel has come a long way and is now the Hounds undisputed starter as a 2004 birth date puck stopper. Schenkel has thus far this season silenced the lingering whispers that he is not a top level OHL goalie.


Liam Greentree

There is a Greentree that is blossoming in Windsor. He is second year power forward Liam Greentree and he has gone from being a second round pick of the Windsor Spitfires at the 2022 OHL priority selections draft to what some are saying will be a sure first first round choice at this year’s National Hockey League draft.

Greentree, who already has pro size, could be among the top 10 players selected in the first round — and no less than 20th overall, according to more than one NHL scout. He is also more than likely ticketed to play for Team Canada at this year’s Under 18 World Hockey Championships.

What also makes Greentree special is his character. Despite being young with a 2006 birth date, Greentree is the team captain in Windsor as a second year player.


Michael Simpson

Another year. Another year of contention for the London Knights.

LIke them or not, the Knights of London are headed for their 21st straight winning season. Yes, ever since having records below .500 in the first two years of ownership under brothers Dale Hunter and Mark Hunter, the Knights have done nothing but finish well above the .500 mark in the 20 seasons since.

As an OHL franchise, the Knights have been without peer for more than 20 years. They don’t rebuild, they reload. During the 20 seasons prior to this season, London has won four OHL titles and two Memorial Cup championships. They also finished atop the standings of the Western Conference seven times and have won 15 — yes, 15 — West Division pennants.

And not only are the Knights very good again this season, they are in another race for first place in the Western Conference and have had an unbeaten streak of more than 20 games over the second half of the season. Simply remarkable.

Leading the way on the Knight shift this season have been overage goalie Michael Simpson and 2005 birth year forward Easton Cowan, who was a first round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 2023 NHL draft.


Sarnia Sting, Flint Firebirds and Windsor Spitfires are in a three way race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. And with the regular season into the last leg of the regular season schedule, the three teams are gearing up for a frantic push at a playoff position.

Sarnia and Flint are neck and neck for the no. 8 slot but Windsor has managed to stay in the race. And while Sarnia and Windsor are done their season series with one another, Flint can control its destiny down the stretch run of the schedule. Consider that of their remaining games, the Firebirds play both Sarnia and Windsor four times each. Thus, the Firebirds just may be in the best position of the three teams as they chase that final playoff spot in the Western Conference. 


Carter George

The youngest starting goalie in the Western Conference just may be the best of the lot. In his first full season with the Owen Sound Attack, 17 year old Carter George has been a standout while carrying a heavy work load on a so-so Owen Sound team.

Five goalies from the OHL made the mid season rankings list of the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau ahead of the June 28-29 NHL Entry Draft — and at the very top of the chart is George, a Thunder Bay product who has Sault Ste. Marie roots from his mother’s side.

The 6-foot-1, 180 pound George, who has a 2006 birth date, was taken by Owen Sound in the third round of the 2022 OHL priority selections draft from the Thunder Bay Kings AAA program. While he is from Thunder Bay, George has deep roots to Sault Ste. Marie as the grandson of legendary curler Tom Coulterman and the son of Tara Coulterman-George, who is no curling slouch herself.

This is one outstanding goalie who still has multiple years of potential OHL stardom ahead of him as a soon to be NHL draft pick.

What you think about “Western wear of the OHL”

  1. Good assessments Randy! The Western Conference playoffs are trending to be an exciting ride, and fan bases better buckle up! Bottom line, 2 of the 4 perceived powerhouses will be gone after the second round. Who will they be? Last team standing? All fodder for future columns and I for one can’t wait for your keyboard to rattle off some more gems!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *