OHL Well Represented in Stanley Cup Final

The Stanley Cup Final gets underway on Monday, between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks. Both teams have had very different routes getting to to the Cup Final, but they do have one thing in common – and that’s the amount of former Ontario Hockey League players representing each team.

(Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)
Former Ottawa 67s captain spent four seasons playing in the OHL. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

San Jose Sharks

Let’s start by looking at the Western Conference champion, San Jose Sharks. Look no further than behind the bench to the man who got them to this position. Sharks head coach, Peter Deboer, is making his second appearance in five seasons in the Final, but people tend to forget that at one time he was the bench boss of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. With the Rangers he won the OHL Championship back in the 2007/08 season. Including his championship season, DeBoer was behind the bench for 14 seasons in the OHL with two different organizations (Kitchener Rangers and Plymouth Whalers/Detroit Whalers). Beside DeBoer, are his two assistant coaches; Bob Boughner and Steve Spott, who also spent time coaching at the OHL level prior to making the jump to the pros.

Out of all of the Sharks players, nobody had a better junior career than assistant captain Joe Thornton. The soon-to-be 37-year-old put up 198 points in just two seasons with the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds prior to being selected 1st overall by the Bruins in 1997. This Cup Final is the London, ON native’s first trip to the finals, after coming so close a few years ago. Thornton will go down as one of the game’s all-time best playmakers.

It’s safe to say that Jumbo Joe has enjoyed this Stanley Cup run so far.

Another Shark who had a pretty prestigious junior career was 25-year-old Logan Couture. The 2009 9th overall pick played four seasons with the Ottawa 67s, where he captained the team in his final season in 2008/09.

Rounding out the Sharks’ former OHLers are: Brent Burns (Brampton Battalion), Joel Ward (Owen Sound Attack), Chris Tierney (London Knights), Nick Spaling (Kitchener Rangers), Barclay Goodrow (Brampton/North Bay Battalion) and Dylan DeMelo (Missisauga St. Michael’s Majors).

Pittsburgh Penguins

Unlike DeBoer, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan did not spend time playing or coaching in the OHL – however both of his assistant coaches Jacques Martin and Rick Tocchet did.

Coach Martin has been coaching at the NHL level for the better part of 26 years now, but spent two seasons as an assistant coach of the Peterborough Petes and another season as the head coach of the Guleph Platers back in the early 1980s. Rick Tocchet on the other hand never coached at the junior level, but did spend time playing in the OHL with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds prior to his NHL playing career.

On the ice, the Penguins aren’t stacked full of OHLers of the past like San Jose – but the players who did play their junior hockey in the “O” are key players on their team. For instance, Matt Murray is just two seasons removed from his playing days with the Greyhounds. Murray spent four seasons with the club, where he developed into the goaltender he is today. Murray was part of the OHL’s Second All-Star Team back in 2013/14, and also participated in the CHL Top Prospects game in 2011/12. The Penguins are very grateful that his junior success has transferred rather nicely at the NHL level.

Here’s a an interview with Murray during his time with the Greyhounds back in 2013.

Olli Maata is another young-Penguin who is just a couple of seasons removed from his OHL playing days. The Finnish-born, 21-year-old came over to North America and suited up for 115 game with the London Knights. During his time with the Knights, Maata put up solid offensive numbers for a two-way defenseman, as he tallied 70 points in the OHL.

(Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)
Oft-injured Olli Maata has been a staple on the Penguins blue-line since making the transition from junior. (Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)

Trevor Daley was traded to the Penguins in the middle of this past season, and has been a steady two-way-defender for them ever since. He has already played 15 playoff  games for the Pens and has registered six points. Daley’s early days were also spent with the Greyhounds, who have four former players playing in this year’s Cup Final. Daley was an offensive defenseman while playing for  Sault Ste. Marie, and put up 188 points in his 216 games with the organization.

The last Penguin on this list is Tom Kuhnhakl, who spent his early junior days playing in his native country of Germany. But Kuhnhakl would go on to play two seasons in the OHL split between two organizations (Windsor Spitfires and Niagara IceDogs). Kuhnhakl, 24, was even the Spitfires’ leading goal scorer during the 2010/11 season when he scored 39 goals.

The OHL is not the only league that is well represented in this Cup Final, as players from both sides got their start playing junior hockey all over the world. The OHL has become one of the top hockey development places to play, and this is a perfect example of that.