Flames’ Best Players to Come From the OHL

Continuing on in our series, the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) was founded in 1980 and is comprised of 17 teams in Ontario as well as three in the American states of Michigan and Pennsylvania. It is a piece of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) pie along with the Western Hockey League (WHL) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and all three compete for the Memorial Cup annually.

Many current Calgary Flames prospects come from the ‘O’ including Adam Ruzicka, Cole Schwindt, Rory Kerins, and Ilya Solovyov. Active players such as the newly-acquired Nazem Kadri in addition to forwards Trevor Lewis, Andrew Mangiapane, Tyler Toffoli, defenseman Nikita Zadorov, and goalie Oscar Dansk also played there before suiting up for the Flames.

Now let’s get into players from the past. These are ones who made a lasting impression on the Flames faithful and cemented their places in history with outstanding play, contributions to team success, and/or public image. As with the WHL list, the names on it will change as more and more OHL players star for the Flames in the future. These men are well-known to not only Flames fans, but hockey fans as a whole and it is due to their impacts on the game.

5. Jim Peplinski

Kicking off our list is the rugged Jim Peplinski who hails from Renfrew, Ontario. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound winger was an early example of a power forward; he played a gritty style and used his big frame to drive to the net to create chances. He suited up in 711 career games, all for Calgary and spread out over 11 years. In that time, he scored 161 goals and 424 points and was a part of both the 1989 Stanley Cup Championship team and the 1985-86 Conference Championship team that lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the Cup Final. He also was noted as being an amazing teammate and routinely stood up for his colleagues. In the playoffs, he bumped his level of play up to 46 points in 99 games. An interesting fact is that Peplinski was one of the last draft picks of the team’s predecessor, the Atlanta Flames, who snagged him in the fourth round of the 1979 NHL Draft.

Peplinski played his junior hockey for the Toronto Marlboros of the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) which is affiliated with the OHL. There, he suited up in 199 games and produced 197 points over three seasons. The three teams he played on weren’t very competitive, never winning more than 33 games in a 68-game season. Peplinski missed only five games in his junior career which carried into his time in the NHL, where he only missed 24 games over his 11 years. Nowadays, he lives in Calgary operating a vehicle leasing company under his name and is recognized as being very charitable towards youth sports. He even received the Charlie Conacher Humanitarian Award back in 1984 for his terrific help with the Special Olympics and Big Brothers of Calgary.

4. Sean Monahan

Love him or hate him, the recently-traded Sean Monahan makes this list and rightfully so. Before his struggles in the last two seasons, he was a model of consistency for the Flames since he was drafted sixth overall in 2013. He played the last nine years in Calgary and scored at least 22 goals in six straight seasons beginning with his rookie year while also including three 30-plus goal campaigns. In total he accumulated 462 points in 656 games, serving as an alternate captain for the last six years. He scored a career-high 82 points in 78 games in the 2018-19 campaign and finished as a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy given to the “player who is voted to best combine of sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct and ability”. His points and games totals currently rank him in the top 10 all-time in Flames history.

Sean Monahan Calgary Flames
Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Before he was wearing the flaming ‘C’, Monahan played for the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL from 2010-13. There, he accrued 203 points in 185 games and was captain of the team in his final year. In his first two years of OHL hockey, his teams won East Division titles, but after the graduation of some top players, the team struggled during the year of his captaincy. A consummate pro, his sportsmanship is one of his best qualities as he never exceeded 38 penalty minutes in a year in the OHL and never over 25 in the NHL. He will be putting on his gear in the visitor’s room of the Saddledome for the first time in his career this season, as he is now a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

3. Gary Roberts

The next player up is left-winger and 10-year Flame Gary Roberts. The North York, Ontario native won the Stanley Cup with the team in 1988-89 and scored 505 points in 585 games. He was picked 12th overall in the 1984 Draft by the Flames and played in 10 seasons with them as well as stops in Carolina, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay in a career that spanned 1,224 total games. Like Peplinski, he was a big-bodied forward that scored by going hard to the net and wasn’t afraid to mix things up either, registering at least 145 penalty minutes in each full season as a Flame. Speaking of his toughness, for returning from a debilitating neck injury he received the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 1995-96. His 53 goals in 1991-92 are still second in team history for goals in a single season behind Lanny McDonald’s 66 and he was a two-time NHL All-Star during his Flames tenure.

Gary Roberts Calgary Flames
Gary Roberts, Calgary Flames (Photo by Graig Abel Collection/Getty Images)

Before the NHL, Roberts had an immensely successful junior career, also playing for the Ottawa 67’s and having a stint as a Guelph Plater. As a 67 he scored 234 points in 184 games, winning the OHL Championship in 1983-84 in addition to that year’s Memorial Cup. He served as captain of the team for the next two seasons until he was traded to Guelph in 1985-86, where he put up 33 points in 23 regular season games. He added 31 points in 20 playoff games as the Platers won the OHL championship and headed to the Memorial Cup, where they won it all, making Roberts a two-time Memorial Cup champ. Currently, he is one of North America’s top hockey fitness trainers at the Gary Roberts High Performance Centre and Fitness Institute where he trains hockey players of all levels including NHLers such as Steven Stamkos and Jeff Skinner, among others.

2. Mark Giordano

Originally from Toronto which is where he now plays for the Maple Leafs, Flames legend Mark Giordano got his start with Calgary back in 2005-06. He is renowned for his work ethic as he was never drafted, instead a late Flames camp invite that laboured his way to stardom. From battling in camp to the American Hockey League for two years to putting up 74 points in 78 games in 2018-19 and winning the Norris Trophy, “Gio” has a wonderful story that still has more to be written.

Giordano was unfortunately selected by the Seattle Kraken in the most recent expansion draft, ending his tenure at 15 seasons. His 74 points from the backend eclipsed the franchise mark set with Dion Phaneuf’s 60 in 2007-08 for most defensemen points in a season in the post-lockout era. Overall, he ranks second in Flames history in games played with 949 and is the longest-serving defenseman in franchise history. His No. 5 jersey will surely be in the rafters of the Scotiabank Saddledome whenever he retires.

Mark Giordano Calgary Flames
Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ben Nelms)

Before he was patrolling the blue line in Flames red, Giordano was doing the same for the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL from 2002-04. There, he scored 97 points in 133 games, his team sadly falling in the first round of the playoffs every year. His play after his first season earned him an invite to the then-Phoenix Coyotes camp, where he impressed but was ushered back to the OHL for another year. He almost played for York University before accepting a late invite for the Flames, and the rest is history. Giordano was given an ovation and video tribute and promptly scored in his first game back at the Saddledome, and the now 38-year-old veteran will still be cheered on when he visits as a member of the Maple Leafs this season.

1. Al MacInnis

Al MacInnis, Calgary Flames, Conn Smythe Trophy
Al MacInnis won the Conn Smythe in 1989. (puckpassion/flickr)

One of the best defensemen in NHL history and known for his booming shot, Al MacInnis is the player who’s at the top of our list. A Flame for 13 seasons, he was another key piece in the team’s 1988-89 Stanley Cup win, producing a resounding 31 points in 22 games to earn himself the Conn Smythe Trophy.

MacInnis has the first, third, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth best single-season points totals by a defenseman in Flames history, and stands atop the leaderboard in all-time points by a rearguard with 822 in 803 games. That total also puts him at third all-time for all positions behind Jarome Iginla and Theo Fleury, but his 609 assists stand as the current franchise record.

MacInnis’ 1,274 career points split between the Flames and St. Louis Blues puts him at third all-time in NHL defensemen career points behind only Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey. His 103-point season in 1990-91 was also tops among Flames ‘D’ for a single season, and he was named an NHL All-Star six times as a member of the Flames.

MacInnis almost made our WHL list, as he began his career playing for the Regina Pats. After two games with them, however, he moved to the OHL where he suited up for the Kitchener Rangers. There he played 157 games, piling up 198 points which got him picked by the Flames 15th overall in 1981. His team won both the OHL and Memorial Cup championships in 1981-82, and the OHL championship in 1980-81, and after his third season with the team, he was given the Max Kaminsky Trophy as the league’s best defenseman.

Interestingly, MacInnis holds the CHL record for goals in a game by a defenseman with five, and he also matched Bobby Orr’s record of 38 goals in a year in 1982-93. He also was honoured as an inductee in the “Forever a Flame” program but his No. 2 jersey hasn’t actually been retired. He currently works with the St. Louis Blues as the team’s senior advisor to the general manager, where he got his name etched on the Cup again when the team won it in 2019.

This list is bound to change as time rolls on. For now, it is an extremely formidable group of men who all left their unique marks on the game in addition to the City of Calgary and the Flames’ faithful. As such, they will never be forgotten in the world of hockey, and are forever etched in Flames lore.

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