The day has finally arrived. September 21st marks the kickoff of the highly anticipated Ontario Hockey League’s 2011-12 regular season. Tonight the defending OHL Champions (recipients of the J. Ross Robinson Trophy) host one of the leagues favourites to compete for the title in this upcoming season – the Plymouth Whalers. The Western Conference has dominated the OHL for the past decade winning nine of ten OHL Championships. As we enter the season, it appears the Western Conference is looking to keep that trend alive.
The West will be the division to keep an eye on all season long as it’s expected to be extremely competitive with the deep roster of the Plymouth Whalers, the much improved Sarnia Sting and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and always dangerous Saginaw Spirit. The Windsor Spitfires are expected to take a small step back as they undergo a small rebuild.
2010-11 Regular Season Record: 36-26-2-4 (3rd in West; 6th in Conference)
2010-11 Season Farewell Story: Eliminated by the eventual OHL Champs, Owen Sound, in Conference Semi-Finals.
Projected 2011-12 Finish: 1st in West; 1st in Conference
G Scott Wedgewood – Wedgewood had a fantastic season recording an impressive 28-18-1-1 record on his way to posting a 2.99 GAA and .908 save percentage (New Jersey Devils, 3rd Round 2010)
RW Stefan Noesen – The native of Texas led all Whalers in scoring last season with 34 goals and 77 points playing in all 68 games (Ottawa Senators, 1st Round 2011)
C Rickard Rakell – The big strong center was instrumental in the Whalers’ success scoring 19 goals and 43 points (49 games). The Whalers missed Rakell’s presence during their playoff run (Anaheim Ducks, 1st Round 2011)
C Mitchell Heard – The three year veteran played well enough (69-19-29-48) to earn a camp invite to the Maple Leafs this fall where he became one of the talked about stories. Look for Heard to carry that momentum into this season.
C JT Miller – Plymouth was successful in recruiting first round pick (15th overall 2011, New York Rangers) and he will surely provide incredible depth for an already loaded roster.
Season Snapshot: The Whalers will lose veterans Jamie Devane, Robert Czarnik, James Liivingstone, and Tyler Brown but look for the likes of Rakell, Miller and Heard to take over. Plymouth will compete for the top spot in the West.
2010-11 Regular Season Record: 25-36-5-2 (4rd in West; 9th in Conference)
2010-11 Season Farewell Story: Did not qualify for Playoffs
Projected 2011-12 Finish: 2nd in West; 3rd in Conference
RW Nail Yakupov – The electrifying Russian superstar led all CHL rookies with 49 goals and 101 points on his way to entrenching his name as a 2012 NHL top prospect. (Eligible for 2012 NHL Draft)
C Alex Galchenyuk – The Sting’s 2010 first round selection showed that he’s among the best in the CHL after displaying his talents by recording 31 goals and 83 points. The duo of Yakupov and Galchenyuk will draw all scouts to the border city of Sarnia this season ((Eligible for 2012 NHL Draft)
C Taylor Carnevale – Acquired from Windsor by Beaulieu to add some much needed scoring depth and veteran leadership (Undrafted; Attended LA Kings rookie camp)
RW Brett Ritchie– The big strong winger from Orangeville had a tough season last year after a bout with mononucleosis but he will be a vital component to this season’s team. (Dallas Stars, 2nd Round 2011)
G Brandon Hope – Another 2012 eligible Sting player will compete all season long for the starting goaltending role with newly acquired Brandon Maxwell (Kitchener Rangers). Look for Hope to earn the starting role sooner than later (Eligible for 2012 NHL Draft)
Season Snapshot: Newly appointed General Manager/Head Coach Jacques Beaulieu has done a complete facelift adding several key players including some top notch recruitment jobs that brought in offensive defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, Ludvig Rensfeldt (Chicago Blackhawks, 2nd Round 2010), and Reid Boucher (New Jersey Devils, 3rd Round 2011). Furthermore, the Sting have added some veteran players who will provide a balanced scoring attack including Charles Sarault (Kingston), Justin Thomas (Sault Ste. Marie) and Domenic Alberga (Brampton Battalion). Sarnia is a team to watch.
2010-11 Regular Season Record: 40-22-4-2 (1st in West; 2nd in Conference)
2010-11 Season Farewell Story: Defeated by the Windsor Spitfires in the Conference Semi-Finals
Projected 2011-12 Finish: 3rd in West; 4th in Conference
LW Brandon Saad – The 2011 2nd round pick (Chicago Blackhawks) will be carrying momentum into the season after a strong NHL rookie camp after a year of struggling last year with consistency issues and a nagging groin injury that limited him to 27 goals and 55 points
LW Josh Shalla – The Nashville Predators draft pick (2011, 4th round) led all Spirit players in goals (47) and points (72) last year and his veteran presence will be counted on again this season.
C Vincent Trochek – Another 2011 NHL draft pick (Florida Panthers, 3rd round) neared a point per game pace last season (62 points in 68 games) and has the potential to increase that production substantially this season.
C John McFarland – Acquired in a trade last season, McFarland posted 28 points in 37 games with his new club. (Florida Panthers, 2nd Round 2010)
D Jamie Oleksiak – The Spirit received good news when the Dallas Stars 2011 1st round draft pick decided to join the Saginaw organization. The 6-foot-7 defender will provide the Spirit with an intimidating presence on the backend.
Season Snapshot: The Spirit will be relying on their goaltender Galansky to play consistency and will be in the mix among the other top West Division Teams. Saginaw was a favourite to win last season and that won’t change this season.
2010-11 Regular Season Record: 39-23-3-3 (2nd in West; 4th in Conference)
2010-11 Season Farewell Story: Windsor was eliminated by the Owen Sound Attack in the Conference Finals (4-1)
Projected 2011-12 Finish: 4th in West; 7th in Conference
C Alex Khokhlachev – The skilled Russian had a strong rookie season in the OHL potting 34 goals and 76 points en route to becoming a 2nd Round NHL Draft pick (Boston Bruins, 2011)
LW Tom Kuhnhackl – Windsor`s second successful rookie story, Kuhnhackl showed that he can play with the OHL`s best. Kuhnhackl is a Pittsburgh Penguin`s prospect and will become one of Windsor`s go-to veterans this upcoming season.
G Jack Campbell – The most decorated international junior player, Campbell has yet to show that sort of dominance at the OHL level but will return to Windsor this season with a strong veteran role model in John Cullen to help him along the way. (Dallas Stars, 1st Round 2010)
D Nick Ebert – The Spitfires have the luxury of Nick Ebert in the lineup to take over the role that will be left by star defenseman Ryan Ellis. Ebert is a top prospect for the upcoming 2012 NHL Entry Draft so look for him to make big strides in his draft year. (2012 Draft Eligible)
D Adam Bateman – Only a few weeks ago, GM Bob Boughner showed some aggressiveness in acquiring 95-born defenseman Adam Bateman using three high draft picks. Bateman has the potential to become the stabilizing defenseman for the Spitfires for years to come.
Season Snapshot: The Windsor Spitfires are definitely in a rebuilding stage but they have plenty of offensive firepower in Khokhlachev, Kuhnhackl, and Ebert. It remains to be seen how much the losses of Ryan Ellis, Zack Kassian, Taylor Carnevale, and Kenny Ryan will affect their competitiveness. Adrian Robertson will become the new captain and leader of the Windsor Spitfires.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
2010-11 Regular Season Record: 24-36-5-3 (5th in West; 10th in Conference)
2010-11 Season Farewell Story: Did not qualify for Playoffs
Projected 2011-12 Finish: 5th in West; 8th in Conference
C Nick Cousins – The Philadelphia third round pick (2011) made huge strides doubling his production to a point per game pace (68 points in 68 games).
RW Andrew Fritsch – The former Owen Sound Attack joins the Greyhounds via trade and will look to continue putting up points in his fourth OHL season after logging 27 points and 62 points. (Phoenix Coyotes, 6th Round 2011)
LW David Broll – At 6-foot-1-inch and 220-pounds, the mean tough winger will provide the ‘Hounds with an intimidating force (Toronto Maple Leafs, 6th Round 2011)
D Joe Rogalski – The Sarnia Sting castoff looks to a fresh start with the rebuilding Greyhounds. The Pittsburgh Penguins drafted the smooth skating Rogalski with hopes of providing offense so look for him to become a go-to guy on their backend (Pittsburgh Penguins, 6th Round 2010)
Season Snapshot: The Greyhounds brought in 25-year old Kyle Dubas as the new General Manager and the young executive has made some good trades for the rebuilding Greyhounds. The team will play a hard high energetic game and should fight for a playoff spot by season’s end. It will be interesting to see how much the Greyhounds miss their leading scorer Daniel Catenacci after trading him earlier this summer.
Next Up: MidWest Division Preview