Welcome back to the OHL Sunday Seven for the first week in November. Seriously? October has come and gone in a flash. We are now at the quarter pole for some teams in the OHL.
This edition of the seven is going to have an Ottawa 67’s feel to it. We will evaluate Marco Rossi’s case to be a top-10 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. We’ll also get thoughts from a thoughtful and honest Kevin Bahl. We’ll also swing around the league. Is Erie in trouble? Why in the world was a game canceled for ice conditions? Windsor and Sarnia are both in a good place at the moment. And what do we make of Tyson Foerster’s early season when thinking about where he’ll be drafted? Let’s dive in. Here’s the last Sunday Seven in case you missed it.
1. Evaluating Marco Rossi
Saturday night was my first chance to view Marco Rossi live at a game. I’ve read the hype. How does he compare to those expected to go high in the draft?
After watching his performance in Erie, I am very impressed. He’s fast. He’s strong. He plays in all situations. It almost seemed like he never left the ice.
He is their top-line center. He plays both special teams units. He has an impact on the outcome of the game. He does the things you want to see that trasnlate well to the next level. Although he was held to just one assist in the game, a 2-0 win against the Erie Otters, it was a thing of beauty. His effort created a shorthanded goal for Austen Keating and some extra breathing room for the 67’s.
Rossi uses his speed and skill to dance around Emmett Sproule and then drives the net hard. Daniel Murphy stopped it but Keating was right there to clean it up. This is Rossi’s game in a nutshell. Instant high impact.
Here’s the thing too. He knows he’s good. I asked him post game why a team should draft him.
“Because I’m a playmaker and I know how good I am.” I followed up and asked him how good are you. Simply put. His answer was “good.” Rossi doesn’t lack for confidence that’s for sure.
His eyes lit up when I asked him about the influence of his head coach Andre Tourigny.
“I love him. I’m so thankful for him,” Rossi said of his coach. “Almost everyday we talk to each other and he always tells me what I have to do better so I am really thankful for what he has done.”
So where does he rank in my eyes? He’s a top-10 player overall for me. While Cole Perfetti has the better offensive game, Rossi is faster, stronger and plays a more complete game. Oh and his offense is pretty good too. He has 24 points in 10 games. His 2.4 points/game currently leads all draft eligibles in the OHL.
We have a stud on our hands. Will other teams see that? Only time will tell on that one.
2. Kevin Bahl on Rossi & Last Season’s End
Defenseman Kevin Bahl is back for another season after helping the 67’s to the OHL Final before losing a heartbreaking series to Guelph. We chatted with Bahl about several things post game, including thinking back to that series with the Storm. I asked him how long it took him to get over it. This was some kind of answer.
“I still think about it to this day,” Bahl said. “I just think about shifts that could have made a difference. I could have blocked a pass. You think about the things that you just missed out to miss out on that window of winning a championship. We’ll come back this year knowing how desperate it really is at the end, those little things that add up over the course of a season. If you don’t do them, you’re not lifting the cup.”
Safe to say Bahl and the 67’s are highly motivated to make another deep run and to not let it end the way it did last season. Bahl also gave us his scouting report on Rossi and what makes him great. This was another great quote. Keep in mind how big Bahl is when reading his scouting report.
“I mean it’s just a combination of speed and skill. He has elite hands and to be able to skate at that level is just crazy. It’s the little things in the corners how he’s always able to spin off guys and just hold big bodies off. In practice I’ll go against him and can’t even push him off the puck he’s so strong.”
Ok that is strong if Bahl can’t push Rossi off a puck.
Bahl, Rossi and the rest of the 67’s will take their 11-4 record into a Sunday date with Hamilton. They’ll then head home for one game and then back on the long road again with four more games including a run through Michigan. They are a threat to repeat as Eastern Conference champions given the state of their defense and goaltending. They’re also one of the funnest teams in the league. Good times in Ottawa these days, for sure.
3. Is Erie in Trouble?
The Otters got blanked by Cedric Andree and the 67’s 2-0 on Saturday night. That marks five losses in their last six games to drop them to 7-6-1-2 on the season. By points percentage, the Otters start Sunday eighth in the OHL’s Western Conference with an afternoon game against Niagara looming at Erie Insurance Arena.
I don’t suspect eighth place in the conference is where the Otters imagined themselves at the quarter pole of the season. With Sarnia shooting up the standings (more on them later), if the Otters aren’t careful, they’ll find themselves out of a playoff spot. Granted the season is young and there’s plenty of time. But given the higher expectations around the team, this has to be considered a disappointing start.
So why are they in this position? In my mind, the biggest thing is consistency. They have really good moments followed by some very forgettable ones. Coach Chris Hartsburg has said all season that consistency is their biggest issue. In our weekly chats with him, consistency is mentioned at least once during the conversation.
And it’s not just the young guys. It’s their top players. Saturday against Ottawa, you could see it in their body language. They were off stride. When they couldn’t get a play to work, they look defeated at times.
If this Otters team hopes to take the next important step, everyone has to step up. Veterans need to lead by example. Young players need to follow that lead. If things get off course, they need to right the ship instead of letting it get out of hand. Given that the Otters have played a home heavy schedule to start, the road ahead won’t be easy. Sunday will marked their 11th game at Erie Insurance Arena in 17 outings. The real test is coming. Will the Otters be ready?
4. Break Out the Windsor Spitfires
It’s a good morning indeed in Windsor. The Spitfires wake up after their extra hour of sleep in first place in the OHL’s Western Conference. Who saw that coming preseason?
The Spitfires are on a six-game winning streak while scoring 39 goals in that stretch. They are getting contributions from everywhere.
Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospect Tyler Angle leads the way with 10-10-20 in 14 games. But then they have eight (8) players with double-digit points and another two with nine points. That is depth and the ability to beat you in different ways.
Egor Afanasyev and Cole Purboo each have 14 points. Jean-Luc Foudy and Daniel D’Amico have 13 points each. Connor Corcoran and rookie Ruben Rafkin have 12 points each. Curtis Douglas and Louka Henault have 11 points apiece. Luke Boka and Will Cuylle are at nine each.
Goaltender Kari Piiroinen has been the benefactor of the Spitfires’ offensive explosion. He is 7-2-1 while rookie Xavier Medina is 3-1-1. But they do have a team goals against average of 3.47 and save percentage of .872. If there is an area they will want to see some improvement, it’s here. But the depth they have plus the young talent they possess make them an interesting team to watch the rest of the season. Can they keep this up?
5. Tyson Foerster on the Rise
On this week’s edition of players who are now squarely on my radar for the rest of the season, meet Barrie Colts forward Tyson Foerster.
Foerster scored his 14th goal of the season Saturday night in Flint helping the Colts to a 5-1 win over the Firebirds. In just 16 games on the season, he has a line of 14-12-26. This is after putting up a line of just 10-13-23 in 64 games as a rookie in 2018-19.
That’s making a statement. Is he someone worth watching for the 2020 draft? Most definitely. Where is his range? That I am not sure of yet. I need to watch more tape of him before making any conclusions. However the one thing that jumps out at me is his release. If he can continue to pot goals at this pace over the season, we’ll get a fast riser. I need to see if this will stay consistent.
Foerster does appear on NHL Central Scouting’s Players to Watch list as a C prospect, meaning he’s projected as a middle-round pick. He definitely has my attention. Where does it go from here now?
6. Sarnia Back from the Dead
After a horrendous 0-7 start, the Sarnia Sting are officially back to life after winning seven of their last eight games. Their latest win was an impressive 4-2 win Saturday night in Owen Sound.
Ryan McGregor and Jamieson Rees scored 1:33 apart late in the first period with Rees’ goal coming shorthanded. Then Sean Josling and Sam Bitten added third period goals to put things out of reach.
But the story here is where they’re at after 0-7. What a turnaround. This conversation starts with the play of Josling. He’s been outstanding. He has 25 points in his last 10 games including two hat tricks and two five-point games.
Now couple that with their acquisition of Ryan Roth and you see the recipe for recent success. They also just acquired Jordan Kooy from London. They are now withing reasonable striking distance of the Otters for eighth in the West. I mentioned earlier if the Otters are not careful, they could get passed up. Sarnia made the moves they made because they needed a spark and a turnaround. Mission accomplished.
7. Mark’s Rant: Ice Postpones Game
Saturday night, the OHL postponed a game between the Guelph Storm and Saginaw Spirit due to ice conditions and it being too much of a risk to play. Kudos for making the right decision. But how in the world does this happen?
The game was going to happen as scheduled. Then a hole was discovered behind the Saginaw net. Crews started to repair this hole. They thought it was done only to discover the repair didn’t work. The hole according to Guelph radio play-by-play guy Larry Mellott was all the way to the cement.
I have several questions about this. In all my years covering hockey, I don’t recall ever seeing an ice situation this bad that forces the cancellation of a game. The ice crews work tirelessly to ensure everything is set and ready to go. It didn’t happen this time. I have yet to see an explanation as to how and why this happened.
The game will be made up at a later date as a result. This is not a good look. In my mind, this was a preventable situation that should have never gotten to this point. Kudos for not playing the game in unsafe conditions. But how did the hole get there in the first place? That’s the real question.
See you next time, hockey fans.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.