Around the OHL – September 27, 2015

London Knights know they have put together something special with their roster this season

They are, on paper, an impressive lot.

The London Knights know they have put together something special with their roster this season. They shoot for the stars every fall, and even when they finish short of those heights, the trip is rarely dull.

“We like our good speed,” London coach Dale Hunter said. “We’ve talked about it all along here. We’re bigger than we were before — bigger and with speed. Speed is involved in everything, penalty killing, power play and forechecking.”

They went after power and quickness because that’s what wins in hockey today. In the OHL over the last decade, you have almost zero chance of getting to the Memorial Cup unless you finish first in your conference. You invariably need about 50 wins to do it.

The Knights won 40 games and finished third in their conference last year, but moved Michael McCarron and Dakota Mermis to Oshawa anyway as they knew they couldn’t out-muscle the best in the business.

This year, they believe they can go to toe-to-toe with the likes of chief rivals Sault Ste. Marie and Niagara, who are also top contenders. And if they need more midway through the season, they have the draft picks and prospects to do it.

Christian Dvorak courtesy Aaron Bell/OHL Images
Christian Dvorak courtesy Aaron Bell/OHL Images

“We should do better than last year,” 19-year-old defenceman Aiden Jamieson said. “The new guys (brought in) have adjusted to the speed (of the league) and we’ll be fast. Our forwards will be deep. Every line is going to be good, especially (Mitch) Marner and (Christian) Dvorak — if they come back (from NHL camps in Toronto and Arizona).

“Obviously, we want them to stay as long as they can for themselves, but for the team’s sake, you want them to come back.”

Marner and Dvorak can help cover up, in the early run, any missing chemistry, inexperience or growing pains.

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The Legend will be missed

I always tried to beat Don Cameron to the media room.

Like me, the veteran broadcaster liked to arrive at the Aud about three hours before puck drop to prepare for the night’s action.

But, more often than not, as I approached the media room — named in his honour — I’d catch a whiff of the coffee brewing and realize that the 79-year-old play-by-play man had already settled in.

“How ya doin’ Don?” I’d ask.

His reply was always the same.

“Good … so far.”

You got the sense that it was Cameron’s way of saying “ask me how I feel after the game.”

Though never a cheerleader, he always wanted to see the Kitchener Rangers do well.

For some 50 years Cameron’s voice brought images to life to ears across Waterloo Region. Friday’s season opener between the Rangers and Owen Sound Attack was the first time in decades that fans heard a different delivery on the radio.

And it was hard not to notice his absence.

I kept peering to my left throughout the game to look for my compadre in the press box only to be reminded that he had retired.

In his place was longtime colour guy Mike Farwell. And he’ll be great. He has the passion, skill and hockey sense to carry the torch. But, with no disrespect, it’s just not the same.

How can it be?

Cameron, a Summerside, P.E.I. native, called more than 4,000 games. For some Rangers fans his voice is the only one they’ve ever known.

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Predicting this year’s top OHL performers

With every team tied for first place and every player tied for the scoring lead, it’s always fun to take a look at who some of the leading contenders are for the Ontario Hockey League’s year-end awards.

TOP SCORER: Andrew Mangiapane, Barrie: We don’t see much of the super skilled Mangiapane here in the Western Conference, but the five-foot-10-inch tall, 170-pound centre put up 104 points last season (43 goals and 61 assists) and is on a team that will be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. The scoring race will be close, but Mangiapane could benefit from not going to the World Juniors while his main competition does.

Runners up: Dylan Strome, Erie; Mitch Marner, London; Josh Ho Sang, Niagara.

Long shot: Jared McCann, Sault Ste. Marie.

TOP DEFENCEMAN: Jakub Chychrun, Sarnia: Might be a bit of a stretch to take a 17-year-old as the top blueliner, but Chychrun has it all: size (six feet two inches tall, 215 pounds), skill (33 points in 42 games last season) and he skates like the wind. Plus, he should have a much better team around him this season.

Runners up: Vince Dunn, Niagara; Mitch Vande Sompel, Oshawa.

Long shot: Travis Dermott, Erie.

Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.
Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

TOP GOALTENDER: Alex Nedeljkovic, Flint: Nedeljkovic has been the best goaltender in the OHL for a couple of years now. While he won’t have a good team in front of him this season as the Firebirds enter rebuilding mode, he should be on Team USA at the World Juniors and will likely be dealt to a contender at some point. Numbers don’t always tell the true story, but if it was Game 7 of the Memorial Cup, I think most coaches would want Nedeljkovic in net.

Runners up: Mackenzie Blackwood, Barrie; Brandon Halverson, Sault Ste. Marie.

Long shot: Michael McNiven, Owen Sound.

TOP OLDER ROOKIE: Matt Tkachuk, London: The Knights have brought in a busload of older rookies this year and the ’97 born Tkachuk (son of former NHLer Keith) might be the best of the bunch. But a couple of his teammates might be right behind him. Tkachuk had 96 points last season playing in the United States National Team Development Program.

Runners up: Max Jones, London; Vili Saarijarvi, Flint.

Long shot: Alex Nylander, Mississauga.

TOP 16-YEAR-OLD ROOKIE: Brady Gilmour, Saginaw: Gilmour’s five-foot-nine-inch stature scared some teams away at the draft table as the talented centre didn’t go until the sixth pick overall. But he led the OHL in pre-season scoring and will play huge minutes immediately for the Spirit.

Runners up: Owen Tippett, Mississauga; David Levin, Sudbury.

Long shot: Markus Phillips, Owen Sound.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Marty Williamson, Niagara: Williamson is respected, talented and has a good team. Plus, everyone is rooting for him after a serious health scare last season. But Williamson will win this one on merit, as the IceDogs should be one of the top teams in the East this season.

Runners up: Derian Hatcher, Sarnia; Mike Van Ryn, Kitchener.

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Halverson frustrated by nagging ankle injury

The Soo Greyhounds No. 1 netminder isn’t confident he’ll be back anytime soon.

“I won’t be at 100% for a couple of weeks,” said Brandon Halverson, forced to miss Friday’s Ontario Hockey League 2015-2016 regular season opener against the Windsor Spitfires.

The 19-year-old (1996 birth year) native of Traverse City, Mich., will not dress tonight either, when the Hounds entertain the Niagara IceDogs in a 7:07 p.m. start.

Brandon Halverson - courtesy Aaron Bell/OHL Images
Brandon Halverson – courtesy Aaron Bell/OHL Images

In Halverson’s absence, Dougie Newhouse, a 12th-round draft choice in 2015, is with the team serving as backup to second-year man Joseph Raaymakers.

Newhouse is slated to spend the season with the Waterloo Wolves Major Midgets.

Halverson continues to be bothered by a bruised left ankle, an injury he suffered on Sept. 4 in the team’s annual Luke Williams Red & White Game.

“It’s getting better,” said Halverson, who set a Greyhounds franchise record last season with 40 regular season victories. “It’s strong off the ice for doing certain things. But I’m not at 100% on the ice. It’s still painful.”

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Attack’s Jarett Meyer taking an aggressive stance

Jarett Meyer is the Friendly Giant minus sidekicks Rusty and Jerome.

The big Owen Sound Attack defenseman is amiable and easy going. So was the famed kids TV show host.

But everyone seems to want the Long Island, N.Y., native to play more like the the giant in Jack in the Bean Stock – grumpy and fierce.

So Meyer is frequently asked to be more physical and more aggressive on the ice. Two additions to his game that would make him play more like Boston’s Zdeno Chara, the other giant that people want to compare him to.

“When you’re big like (me) that’s how you should play,” Meyer said in an interview prior to Owen Sound’s 5-4 overtime win in Kitchener in their Attack’s season opener on Friday.

“I’m not Chara but it’s flattering.”

The opposition often make it easier for Meyer to play with an edge.

Everybody wants to take a run at the big guy to see him fall.

“My Dad’s always saying some guy tried to run me but I don’t even notice,” Meyer said.

“I don’t really feel it.”

But he did feel it when Detroit invited him to its main training camp after an impressive showing at a rookie tournament for Red Wings.

“That was the best news ever when you get that,” said Meyer who sat near Red Wings’ defenseman Niklas Kronwall and across the room from Henrick Zetterberg. at main camp.

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10 key storylines to keep an eye on as the Sarnia Sting embark on a new season

So much of what happens over the course of a six-month OHL season is unpredictable.

Injuries, trades, and production – or lack thereof – from surprise sources all have a significant impact on a junior hockey franchise’s fortunes.

Here, though, are 10 key questions that, depending on how they’re answered, could significantly sway the Sarnia Sting’s 2015-16 season – which began Friday night against Erie and continues Sunday when Kingston arrives in Sarnia – one way or the other.

1. What will the Devils do with Pavel Zacha?

What route the New Jersey Devils decide to take with Pavel Zacha is crucial for the Sting.

The Devils currently have the 18-year-old Czech forward – they selected him sixth overall in June’s draft – at training camp.

They have several options: Return him to Sarnia at some point over the next two weeks as their camp roster is trimmed down, keep him for up to nine NHL regular-season games, then send him back to junior so as not to use the first year of his entry-level contract, or make him a full-time Devil.

Without his services this season, the Sting’s offence will take a significant hit.

2. How will Justin Fazio react to starter’s minutes?

Last season’s starting goalie, Taylor Dupuis, is gone, leaving backup Justin Fazio and the newly-signed Kaden Fulcher as the two candidates for crease minutes.

Fazio, a 17-year-old Sarnia native, had a strong preseason with a 2-1 record, 2.00 goals against average and .935 save percentage, while Fulcher is a rookie coming out of a Toronto-based hockey academy.

The team’s coaching staff is looking for one of the masked men to take the reigns, and the first opportunity will be handed to Fazio, who appeared in 29 games last year.

Jacob Chychrun - courtesy Aaron Bell/OHL Images
Jacob Chychrun – courtesy Aaron Bell/OHL Images

3. Will Jakob Chychrun stay healthy all season?

So much of the team’s fortunes rest on the surgically-repaired shoulder of Jakob Chychrun.

The sophomore defenceman managed to finish 11th in rookie scoring last season despite missing almost half of his team’s games due to a pair of upper-body ailments.

The club needs him to stay on the ice this winter, and being his NHL draft year he’ll be aiming for the same result, no doubt.

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Former Colts coach being inducted into Barrie Sports Hall of Fame

Bill Stewart won’t hide from the past.

While his one only year at the helm of the Barrie Colts included the franchise’s lone Ontario Hockey League championship and appearance in a Memorial Cup final, he takes full responsibility for the part he played in a 1999-2000 season that was filled with as much controversy off the ice as there was success on it.

Stewart admits he made some serious mistakes, but the now head coach of the Guelph Storm says he has learned a great deal from them and is a better coach and person today than he was back then.

“I don’t want any pity party, because I got what I deserve and I deserve everything that I got. You know what? Pick yourself up and let’s go,” said the Barrie native who is being inducted into the Barrie Sports Hall of Fame when they host this year’s induction ceremony on Wednesday, Oct. 7 at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall.

Stewart knows he can’t change the past, but he’s humbled that his hometown would allow him this great honour.

Bill Stewart - courtesy Aaron Bell/OHL Images
Bill Stewart – courtesy Aaron Bell/OHL Images

“I just wish it was under better circumstances. But you know what? It’s not a perfect world and you learn from your mistakes and I think I’ve done that,” the 57-year-old said. “I really appreciate that finally I am getting recognized for whatever reason and it’s just great to part of a tradition in Barrie.”

Despite leading Barrie to a Central Division title and a 43-18-6-1 record that season, it was overshadowed by several incidents, including when Stewart was suspended by the OHL for putting a player inside the luggage compartment of the team bus after realizing import defenceman Vladimir Chernenko didn’t have his proper paper work as they were set to cross the U.S. border.

As a result, Stewart was banned from crossing the U.S. border and had to watch from a Windsor hotel as the Colts clinched the OHL title in Game 7 in Plymouth, Mich.

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New Steelhead Nylander likes the Canadian game

Alexander Nylander will have plenty of family support when he suits up for the Ontario Hockey League’s Mississauga Steelheads this season.

His father Michael, a former NHL star, is an assistant coach in the organization, and his brother William is a top prospect with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While being close to his brother was a factor in Nylander’s decision to move to the Toronto area, the Swedish teenager said the chance to play the Canadian style of hockey was also a draw.

“It’s great hockey here in Canada. I really like small rinks,” said Nylander, who is considered a potential first-round pick in next year’s NHL draft. “My brother is living here so it’s super close and Toronto is a great area, so is Mississauga.”

The Steelheads drafted Nylander in June’s CHL import draft, and the 17-year-old decided to make the move August during the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, where he finished tied for second in tournament scoring with two goals and four assists.

Nylander’s offensive ability will be welcomed on a team that struggled to score last season.

“He plays the game at a fast-fast pace and he’s got a great shot and nose for the net,” said Mississauga head coach James Boyd.

“He’s one of the better players in his age group, in Sweden, likely in Europe. He’s going to be a key guy and someone to watch for at the NHL draft next year.”

Michael Nylander, who had 679 points in 920 career NHL games, will join his son as an assistant on Boyd’s staff. He has a bit of coaching experience under his belt, serving as an assistant for AIK in Sweden last season.

“Then I got asked this, of course I have big family to think of but everybody was on board and William is here also in Toronto and it’s pretty fun to be able to be around as a dad for him,” he said. “When I played all the time, I was away a lot so now I can just sit back and see what happens, enjoy it … and be part of this organization. It’s a great opportunity for me.”

Alexander Nylander played the majority of last year with AIK’s junior squad where he had a team-high 42 points in 40 games. His play earned him a brief promotion to the senior team where his dad coached, meaning this year’s arrangement with the Steelheads isn’t new territory.

“At the rink I’m the coach and Alex just a player, like every player on the team. I treat him like a player,” Michael Nylander said. “And of course when you’re home, I’m his dad, but at the rink it’s a big difference. He gets treated the same way as everybody else and nothing like a dad-son thing, it’s just I’m the coach and that’s it.”

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25 things you need to know about the OHL Bulldogs

1. There are 20 teams in the Ontario Hockey League. The Bulldogs’ closest divisional opponent by distance is Mississauga (door to door from arenas) at 52.7 kilometres. Sudbury is farthest at 439 km.

2. Bulldogs’ players range in age from 16 to 20. They’re technically not paid, but do receive $470 monthly for expenses ($900 if they’re overage players), scholarship money, financial support for off-season training, access to tickets and other perks.

3. With a seating capacity of 17,383, Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre is nearly twice the size of the next largest OHL arena. Bulldogs tickets range between $29 a seat at centre ice to $20 at the goal-line.

4. The OHL didn’t realign divisions when the Belleville Bulls moved to Hamilton. That means the Bulldogs will continue to play in the East Division with the Peterborough Petes, Oshawa Generals, Ottawa 67’s and Kingston Frontenacs for at least one more campaign.

5. The Belleville Bulls finished seventh out of 10 teams in the OHL’s Eastern Conference last season and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

6. The majority of Bulldogs players live with billet families in the Hamilton area. Their hosts are compensated with everything from tickets to grocery cards to a weekly stipend for food.

7. Head coach George Burnett played college hockey at McGill with Maple Leafs’ coach Mike Babcock.

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