After waiting nearly 600 days for the return of Ontario Hockey League action, the first week of the season is in the books. For some, it was an opening week to remember forever, but for others, it’s a week that they will want to put behind them as soon as possible. The opening week saw some blowouts, some close games, and some games with little appeal beforehand that ended up being worth the price of CHL TV alone. We’ve only just started, and it’s anyone’s guess if these trends will continue, but hey, overreacting to the first handful of games is all we can do right now.
Slow Starts From Contenders
The 2020-21 season certainly could have gotten off to a better start for a pair of contenders in the OHL’s Eastern Conference. Both the Barrie Colts and the Kingston Frontenacs are expected to be among the best teams in the league this season, but they have just three points between them early in the season.
The Frontenacs got off to a great start by beating the Ottawa 67’s 8-1 in their home opener, but in their following two games, they turned in a less than ideal effort. They were crushed 7-2 at the hands of the Mississauga Steelheads before traveling to Ottawa, where they were beaten by the 67’s 3-2 in a game where they never looked in control of things.
Things haven’t been much better for the Colts this season, at least not early on. They were beaten quite handily by the Niagara Ice Dogs in their season opener and were downed by the Hamilton Bulldogs in overtime two days later. Expectations are much higher for the Colts, but both the Ice Dogs and the Bulldogs have good rosters on paper. The season is long for both of these teams, and losing their first couple of games doesn’t mean it’s over for them, of course.
Calum Ritchie Starting Hot
The Oshawa Generals’ second overall selection in the 2021 OHL Priority Selection has generated plenty of headlines early in the season, and many people around the league believe that he will be the recipient of the rookie of the year award when it’s all said and done. Calum Ritchie has done nothing but proven those people right early in his time with the Generals by scoring three goals and adding an assist in his first three OHL games.
Ritchie currently sits in second in the rookie scoring race, two points behind Jake Karabela of the Guelph Storm. Karabela has been impressive, of course, but Ritchie has done it scoring goals. Paul Ludwinski of the Frontenacs and Michael Buchinger of the Storm also have four points this season, but they have also done it primarily with helpers early in the year.
Only one other rookie has scored at the rate that Ritchie has this season, and it’s another member of the Guelph Storm. Matthew Poitras has also scored three goals this season after being drafted 12th overall in 2020. Both players have been very impressive so far, but it is also important to remember that Poitras is nearly a full year older than Ritchie. Regardless, the young talent has been on full display this season, and Ritchie might just be the best of the bunch.
Many Firsts in Multiple Categories
In the first week of OHL action, 42 players scored their first career goals while many more picked up other milestones, including first points, first win (goalie), or first shutout (goalie). This number is insanely high, of course, thanks to their being two cohorts of first-year players due to a canceled 2020-21 season.
Before the Guelph Storm headed to Owen Sound on Wednesday night, there were 41 players to score their first goal, but Cedrick Guindon made it 42 when he scored with about eight minutes to go in the Attack’s 7-3 loss. This number isn’t limited to rookies either. There are some players who have seen plenty of playing time score their first goal, including Jack Matier, who had a five-point night in the 67’s win over the Generals, and Anthony Costantini, who also scored in that game.
Where Did Jack Thompson Come From?
If you legitimately thought that Jack Thompson would be the OHL’s leading scorer after the first week of the season, you are either a time traveler or a die-hard Sudbury Wolves fan. No matter how crazy that prediction would be, if you made it, you were right. For many, however, clicking on the leader’s section of the OHL website and seeing Thompson top the scorer’s leaderboard is surprising, to say the very least.
Thompson’s career-high for points came in the 2019-20 season, where he scored 32 points in 63 games. While it isn’t uncommon to see defencemen go over a point-per-game in the OHL (Noel Hoefenmayer, Ryan Merkley, Declan Chisholm, and Brady Lyle all did it in 2019-20), it isn’t as common to see them at the top of the scoring leaderboard, even though it is early in the season.
With eight points in three games, Thompson has set himself up to have a massive third OHL season. When you consider that he was a third-round pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, you just have to assume that things are going to work out, considering their success rate in the mid-rounds. Thompson should be on your radar this season, at the very least.
The Return of Tucker Tynan
The story of Tucker Tynan is pretty unbelievable. In his rookie season, he was playing really well behind a bad Niagara Ice Dogs team before he was caught up in one of the more gruesome injuries seen in quite some time. That injury left people wondering if he would live, let alone play hockey again. Well, he’s back and playing like one of the best goaltenders in the league early on. It’s truly something special.
Through two games, Tynan has turned aside 57 of the 60 shots he has faced. He has helped the Ice Dogs to a 2-0 start, beating both the Barrie Colts and the Oshawa Generals, two teams that people anticipate will be good this season. This doesn’t come out of the blue for Tynan, of course. He came into the season with people expecting him to play at an elite level, but there were always some concerns about if he would be able to come back off of such a terrible injury.
This story is just as impressive as it is inspiring. No one ever wants to see something like what happened to Tynan happen, and no one wants to see a career end because of it. Thanks in large part to the injury, Tynan wasn’t drafted into the NHL, and while being drafted is something that won’t likely happen for him, he will almost certainly be given a chance to play at the next level if he continues to do what he is doing this season. Everyone is cheering for Tynan right now, and he’s blossoming into the elite goaltender the Ice Dogs hoped he would become.
The London Knights Never Die
It’s hard to remember the last time that the London Knights were a bad hockey team. When people think about model franchises in the Canadian Hockey League, there’s one that everyone looks to, and it’s the Knights. You either love them or hate them, but there is simply no denying the excellence they have achieved. Coming into the season, it was hard to get a read on them. Their roster made you think they wouldn’t be amazing, but it’s London, so it’s hard to count them out.
It’s hasn’t been all that pretty, but they have found a way to win their first three games of the season. Back-to-back wins against the Owen Sound Attack (one coming in a shootout) and a win over the Windsor Spitfires in a shootout to cap things off have them off to a great start to the season.
The main reason for their success has been their goaltender Brett Brochu. Brochu has seen 100 shots come his way (third-most in the league) but has turned aside 92 of them, giving his team a chance to win each night. You can say their goaltending is bailing them out, but that’s the point of having a good goalie. London isn’t dead yet, and they certainly aren’t a team that you ever want to run into.
A Sneak Peek at What’s to Come
The season has only just begun, and there’s plenty that can and will change between now and the end of the season, but it is great to have OHL hockey back. We’ve got a bit of a peek at what might be coming this season. And it’s already shaping up to be a great season filled with ups and downs that haven’t previously been anticipated. It’s game on!
Currently a journalism student at Algonquin College in Ottawa, I have always had a passion for the OHL and the Ottawa 67’s in particular. I have been attending games since I was young, and being involved with sports has always been a dream of mine. Sports writing fits perfectly into that. You can also find me talking and writing other sports (primarily Canadian football) on my website 13thmansports.ca!