It is no secret that the Mississauga Steelheads are carrying monumental expectations on their shoulders this season.
A mere year ago in 2015-16, the Trout not only clinched a playoff birth but drove the high-powered, second-seeded Barrie Colts to a Game 7 in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup. Although the team eventually dropped a hard-fought seventh game, the skills and drive of the team served as a clear indication of the Steelheads’ potential in the near future.
In addition, the 2016 NHL Draft saw five Steelheads players selected, two of which within the top-10 overall. Alexander Nylander, the brother of Toronto Maple Leafs forward William and son of former NHL star Michael, was selected by the Buffalo Sabres 8th overall. Then, Michael McLeod, Mississauga’s clear cut first line center, was picked up by the New Jersey Devils with the 12th selection; his long-time friend and Steelheads winger Nathan Bastian joining him in New Jersey 29 picks later.
As such, Mississauga is flush with a seemingly endless amount of elite young talent.
Yet, what hampered the team in their home opener on Sept. 23 was exactly the opposite, as the vast majority of Mississauga’s high-end players were unavailable to play, as the were attending their respective NHL training camps.
Hamilton at Mississauga (7-0 Loss) – Sept. 23
To say the Steelheads opened their season in disappointing fashion would be an understatement.
In the team’s home opener, the Trout dropped a 7-0 decision to the visiting Hamilton Bulldogs in a game in which Mississauga failed to truly compete. Outshot 42-31 in the game, the Bulldogs’ lead reached its climax a mere 9:57 into the second period, as Hamilton forward Matt Luff, fresh off signing an entry-level deal with the Los Angeles Kings, buried one of his three goals in the game, and fourth point.
— Hamilton Bulldogs (@BulldogsOHL) September 23, 2016
MacKenzie Entwistle also scored twice in the win, while Jesse Saban added three assists and three other Bulldogs players recorded two points.
You can see the full highlights here.
On the Steelheads side of the puck, it was a rough night all around.
Matthew Mancina, who was acquired in a trade with the Peterborough Petes, endured a difficult start in which a number of bounces simply did not go his way. In all, Mancina was pulled mid-way through the game, having allowed seven goals on the 25 shots he faced. Yet, Mancina’s team did not play a defensively sound game in front of him, so placing the blame solely on the veteran netminder would be a massive mistake.
One bright spot for Mississauga on Friday night was the play of goaltender Jacob Ingham, who appeared in his first OHL game and stopped all 17 shots he faced. An OHL rookie, Ingham was the Steelheads’ second round pick, 26th overall in the 2016 OHL Draft, and at 6’3″, projects to be Mississauga’s future starting netminder.
— OHL Steelheads (@OHLSteelheads) September 24, 2016
Sudbury at Mississauga (6-1 Win) – Sept. 25
After a difficult loss to open their season against Hamilton, the Steelheads shook off the rust and shed some nervous energy as they earned a decisive victory over the visiting Sudbury Wolves.
After a difficult first start in his career with Mississauga, Mancina bounced back in a major way on Sunday, stopping 24 of the 25 shots he faced en route to his first win with the club. Yet, the game itself was won by committee, as the entire Steelheads lineup made vital contributions in the win.
The most notable effort of which in the win was that of Aidan McFarland, who not only scored his first career OHL goal, but added another two to clinch his first OHL hat trick.
— OHL Steelheads (@OHLSteelheads) September 26, 2016
In addition, Ryan McLeod notched three assists, and Owen Tippet scored once and added one helper. Further, Michael Little scored his first OHL goal and Dow Scoley grabbed his first point in the League, an assist on defenseman Nicolas Hague’s first goal of the season.
Speaking of defense, the blue-line too was in fine form in the win, contributing both on offense and defense. While Hague picked up his first goal of the season, he also drew an assist on McFarland’s second tally of the game. Then, there was the play of Stefan LeBlanc, who despite being well known for his hard physical game and willingness to stand up for his teammates, recorded an incredible three assists and was named the second star of the game.
In their opening weekend, it truly was a tale of two teams in Mississauga. After putting their opening night loss behind them, the Steelheads’ 6-1 decision came about due to the team’s ability to play a strong, sound, all-around style of game. From the crease forward, Mississauga was solid in their first win of the season, and will need each and every player’s maximum effort if the team is to continue winning games in the absence of their top players.
Yet, the absence of the team’s drafted talent has and will continue to provide younger players with lesser experience considerable opportunities to prove their abilities and worth at the OHL level. As we have seen, a number of which have already begun to step up and play significant roles with the team, an indication of the depth of talent and skill present within Mississauga’s organization.
Moving forward, the Steelheads will need to draw consistent efforts from both their younger and experienced players in order to find success. Sure, the team is without a ton of its top talent, but then again, so are a number of other teams. As such, the lack of McLeod, Bastian, Day, Osmanski and others can not be used as an excuse, but instead, as motivation as Mississauga aims for its second consecutive playoff birth.
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.