OHL Weekly Wrap Up: Kirsten Welsh, Trades & More

The last couple of weeks in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) have kept us on our toes. Last week featured a coach getting fired, an NHL contract getting signed by one of the league’s top import players, and some other interesting storylines. This week got off to a strong start with the first-ever female on-ice official in the OHL and a bunch of trades that continued on for the whole week. It was another captivating week on the OHL, and we’ve got you covered if you happened to miss the week that was. Here’s what you need to know.

Kirsten Welsh Become First Female Official In the OHL

Females continue to make waves in the OHL landscape in the year 2021. This time, it was Kristen Welsh becoming the first-ever female to be part of an on-ice officiating crew in the league. This comes just months after the first-ever female was drafted into the OHL via the 2021 Priority Selection when the Sarnia Sting used the 267th overall selection on goaltender Taya Currie.

This is not the first time Welsh has officiated a game at the OHL level, but she previously only worked in the preseason. She made the jump to regular season hockey when the Kitchener Rangers hosted the Owen Sound Attack on Friday night. She has worked her way into the OHL, and she is more than qualified to be there. She is so qualified that she even made her American Hockey League debut on Saturday when the Belleville Senators took on the Utica Comets.

“I’m sure there will be lots of little girls watching in the stands tonight that look out there and see her and think, ‘Hey, I can do that,’ whether it’s refereeing or ‘I can do whatever I want,’” said Mike McKenzie, the general manager and head coach for the Kitchener Rangers before the game on Friday night.

Related: Sarnia Sting Make History by Selecting Taya Currie in OHL Priority Draft

“I get the privilege to just see the impact this is going to have across the hockey community and the sport,” Welsh told CTV News Kitchener before the game. “That’s the only thing I could really ask for, just showing the next generation of female officials that this could be a possibility one day.”

For every naysayer, there were numerous people in her corner pulling for her. For every person saying she would never be able to break up a fight because she’s a woman, there were numerous people saying she could. When it did come time to break things up, you’re damn right she did it. The times are finally changing, and both Currie and Welsh have broken barriers in the hockey world this season, opening doors for more women and girls to finally get roles they are deserving of. It’s about damn time.

Busy Week for Trades in the OHL

Seemingly out of nowhere, the OHL exploded and saw a series of trades come down. The Sarnia Sting were busy at the start of the week, making a duo of trades. The first of the two sent over-age defenceman Cameron Supryka to the Guelph Storm in exchange for a ninth-round pick in 2024. It is worth noting that the Sting acquired Supryka in the summer of 2020 while there was still hope for a season, giving up Colton Kammerer, a defenceman that has started to become a mainstay on the Hamilton Bulldogs’ blue line.

Cameron Supryka Hamilton Bulldogs
Cameron Supryka Hamilton Bulldogs (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Now down a defenceman, the Sting continued to make moves, acquiring Ethan Ritchie from the Kingston Frontenacs for a conditional draft pick. The draft pick is a seventh-round selection in the 2023 OHL Priority Selection, and it will become a sixth-round pick if Ritchie plays his over-age season. With these two moves, the Sting do get younger, but you have to wonder if maybe keeping Kammerer from the start may have been the better move. Still, Ritchie does have a chance of being good down the line.

Splitting the two deals was a minor trade between the Owen Sound Attack and the Saginaw Spirit. Brayden Hislop, who had been playing with the Elmira Sugar Kings in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, was sent to the Spirit in exchange for a ninth-round pick in 2022. Hislop was a ninth-round pick by the Attack in 2019 but didn’t have a chance to play in Owen Sound — he has since played in a game for Saginaw.

Related: Undermanned 67’s No Match For Talented Battalion

One of the more interesting trades of the flurry was the Mississauga Steelheads shipping William Portokalis to the Attack for an exceptionally underwhelming return of a 12th-round pick in 2024. If you asked Steelheads fans, they would tell you that Portokalis has been somewhat disappointing in his time with the team, but sending him away for such a minimal return is certainly a questionable move. The Steelheads used a second-round pick on the promising talent in 2018, so to only get a pick 10 rounds later back is disappointing. Perhaps a change of scenery will help him reach his full potential, or at least that’s what the hope will be in Owen Sound.

William Portokalis Mississauga Steelheads
William Portokalis, Mississauga Steelheads (Frankie Benvenuti / The Hockey Writers)

If all those trades weren’t enough for you, there was still one more to come. There was a talented over-ager on the block; this time, it was Hamilton’s Liam Van Loon. There were rumoured to be multiple suitors, but the one who ended up winning out was the Niagara Ice Dogs. Van Loon has scored two points in two games with the Bulldogs this season, but playing time has been hard to come by for the over-ager this season as the team already had their 20-year-olds. Heading to Niagara, Van Loon should have some more playing time and a chance to be a contributor for what should be a good team. Going to Hamilton is an eighth-round pick in 2024.

Memorial Cup Schedule Announced

A couple of months ago, the Canadian Hockey League announced that the Memorial Cup would take place in Saint John, New Brunswick. This past week, the league announced the schedule for the tournament, including the Saint John Sea Dogs and a placeholder from each of the other three leagues. The tournament is scheduled to start on Saturday, June 4, 2022, when the Sea Dogs take on the OHL champion.

Memorial Cup
Memorial Cup (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

The eventual OHL champion will then have a couple of days of rest before getting right back at it. On Tuesday, June 7, the OHL champion will play a home game against the Western Hockey League champion before turning around the very next day, playing an away game against the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

If there is a need for a tie-breaker game, it would take place on June 10. From there, the next two days are spent determining the best team in the CHL, with the semi-final happening on the 11th and the Memorial Cup championship game scheduled on the 12th. Of course, it’s impossible to evaluate just how hard this tournament is going to be for the eventual OHL champions while we don’t know who’s going to be participating, but as always, it is going to be exceptionally difficult.

Always Things Going On

The past two weeks have been very busy around the OHL. That trend is only going to continue as we come closer to the start of the World Juniors and then very soon after, the trade deadline. We should soon see some of the teams that were anticipating being very good this season pushing the panic button and making some desperate moves. On the flip side, some of those teams that didn’t expect to be as good as they have been might soon decide what direction they want to go. They could sell and build for next season, or they could make a splash and go after it. It’s starting to get crazy, and it’s only going to get crazier.

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