OHL Announces Home Openers for OHL’s Opening Week

By: Bryan Thiel


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The OHL announced the home openers for all 20 teams on Tuesday (Courtesy: OHL).

The OHL announced the schedule for all 20 home openers during 2016/17  Opening Week on Tuesday. All 20 teams will play their home openers between Wednesday, September 21st and Saturday, October 1st.

You can see the schedule below:

(*Indicates a playoff matchup from the 2016 playoffs; Home team is in capitals)

Wednesday, September 21st:

SARNIA STING vs London Knights

FLINT FIREBIRDS vs Saginaw Spirit Continue reading

13 From OHL Named to Canada’s National Junior Team Summer Development Camp

By: Bryan Thiel


Hockey Canada made a series of announcements on Monday, naming the players who will attend the National Teams’ Summer Showcase.

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Lawson Crouse & Mitch Marner could suit up for Canada again…or they could be in the NHL.

Overall, 45 Ontario Hockey League prospects were named to the National Under-17 Development Camp, 21 were announced as part of the Men’s Summer U-18 Selection Camp, and 13 will have the opportunity to state their case for a spot on the World Junior team at the National Junior Team Summer Development Camp. Ultimately, 79 OHL’ers made the cut.

 

While there are some names to pay attention to when it comes to the U-18 camp (Michael DiPietro of Windsor should make a strong case to start while Nick Suzuki’s 38 points would lead this team) and the U-17 Camp (The first five Ontario-born players selected in the most recent OHL Priority Selection all made the cut among many others), the roster for the NJT Summer Development Camp is typically where most of the attention will fall.

Here are the 13 OHL’ers that will attend camp in late July in Toronto. Continue reading

ICYMI: Wesley Signs with Canes, 15 Go Unsigned, Could Gruden be Back?

By: Bryan Thiel


With the NHL Draft now under a month away, another key date has come and gone when it comes to the prospect calendar.

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Wesley announced his agreement with this photo via his Twitter (@JoshyWeso).

On June 1st, NHL teams had to determine the future of any players selected out of the CHL from the 2014 Draft class that they had yet to sign. They could either come to an agreement on an entry-level contract, or they could forfeit the rights of the player, meaning the player could re-enter the draft or (in some cases) become a free agent.

 

Niagara IceDogs defenceman Josh Wesley was the only player of the 16 approaching that deadline to come to an agreement with his NHL team. After an up-and-down year split between Flint and Niagara, the Carolina Hurricanes inked Josh to an ELC. He’ll now stay with the club where his father, Glen, won a Stanley Cup and is now Director of Defensemen Development. Continue reading

OHL Well-Represented at CHL Awards

By: Bryan Thiel


The CHL handed out their awards for the 2015/16 season the night before the Mastercard Memorial Cup final, and the Ontario Hockey League was well-represented. Of the ten handed out, three went to OHL’ers.

Sportsnet Player of the Year Award

Mitch Marner, London Knights

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Mitch Marner was named CHL Player of the Year (CHL).

Only four players scored more points during their respective regular seasons than Marner’s 116, and one was teammate Christian Dvorak. Add in to that a playoff-leading 44 points, and Marner’s 160 points were the highest combined total in the CHL this season. The fact he went scoreless just once in 18 playoff games (and finished the playoffs on a 16-game point-streak) and mixed in 21 and 13-game point streaks during the regular season just adds to his amazing year. Continue reading

Rest or Rust: The Recent History of 3-0 OHL Teams at the Memorial Cup

By: Bryan Thiel


The London Knights have crushed everyone in their path en route to the 2016 Mastercard Memorial Cup final.

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The London Knights have looked unstoppable at the Memorial Cup (Rob Wallator/CHL Images

Outside of an early stumble in the first round of the OHL playoffs against the Owen Sound Attack, the Knights have been dominant from start to finish: they’ve now won 16-straight games (13 in the OHL playoffs and three at the Memorial Cup), Mitch Marner is riding a 19-game point streak (44 points in the OHL playoffs and an astonishing 13 at the Memorial Cup), and just two of their last 12 games have been decided by one goal (Games 3 and 4 vs Niagara).

 

By all accounts, this team has earned every bit of rest they’ve received between the final horn of their 5-2 win over Rouyn-Noranda and the 4:30 puck drop of Sunday’s final (against those same Huskies).

While there’s no real reason to doubt the team that has scored a combined 423 goals this season, there is always one question that pops up whenever a team goes 3-0 in the round robin portion of the Memorial Cup: is the rest really beneficial?

It’s fair to wonder how rest can help or hurt a squad, even if it’s one that has outscored opponents 20-5 and features a player four points away from setting a new tournament record. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the last five OHL teams to go 3-0 in the round robin have fared.

Continue reading

Across the OHL’s 2016 Playoff All-Star Team

By: Bryan Thiel


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The London Knights claimed their fourth OHL title, sweeping away the Niagara IceDogs (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

After the London Knights dominated the Ontario Hockey League playoffs to the tune of a 16-2 record and 13 straight wins, they’re OHL champions for the third time since 2011 and off to their fourth Mastercard Memorial Cup in that span.

Now, as with any dominating playoff run, there were a number of stars: Mitch Marner was the recipient of the Wayne Gretzky ’99’ Award as playoff MVP, Matthew Tkachuk led the league in goals, Christian Dvorak had a very pedestrian 35 points in 18 games, and Tyler Parsons backstopped the team to all 16 of their wins (which is important, considering 22 different goalies recorded decisions in these playoffs).

If you were to do some more digging, it’d be very easy to find a pair of defencemen to round out an all-London Knights playoff All-Star team. But where’s the fun in that? While the Knights will be well-represented across the first and second All-Star teams, we did our best to gather up a handful of other OHL’ers to round out both squads, for Across the OHL’s (Delayed by an ill-timed vacation) playoff All-Star team.

Continue reading

Guelph Storm & Ryan Merkley Have Plenty to Smile About

By: Bryan Thiel


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Ryan Merkley may still be smiling.

On Saturday, the 15-year old GTHL Player of the Year was wearing the same smile he had on Friday morning in Guelph; a smile that will probably be plastered on his face until training camp begins.

He is, after all, the first overall pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection.

Wouldn’t you be smiling?

“It’s very exciting and I’m really honoured to be in the same category as guys like Chychrun, Stamkos and Spezza” he said. “It’s settling in a little more as time goes on, but it (first overall) hasn’t really set in yet. It’s just really exciting.”

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Guelph announced Friday that Merkley would go 1st overall in the Priority Selection. (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Merkley and his family took over the OHL’s head office on Saturday morning during the draft, each of them in brand new gear courtesy of the Guelph Storm as they watched Ryan and others go through interviews and photo ops.

As Ryan, who finished the year with 44 points in 33 games for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens, stepped in front of the canvas the first time, he would turn and laugh in between photos as his younger cousin weaved his way between everyone. During the second shoot with Owen Lalonde and Connor Roberts, he’d flex his stick with a mischievous grin, laughing along with the second and third overall picks.

At a quiet point, I turned to him and asked if the burgundy shirt/tie combo peeking out from under his jersey was by design. “Yeah. Once we found out I was going to Guelph we went suit shopping,” he beamed, like any teenager would. How long did he know that Guelph would be where he started his junior hockey career? Not one to spill a secret, the lips of the smile tightened a bit and he responded with a simple answer: “a while.”

The smile mostly represents the excitement of being the first overall pick,  but a part of it comes from who he was drafted by. The Guelph Storm aren’t typically at the top of the draft board. The last time they missed the playoffs was 1991/92, which was also the last time the franchise held the first overall pick and selected Jeff O’Neill. Since 2005, their highest draft picks have been Drew Doughty (5th in 2005) and Robby Fabbri (6th in 2012); they’ve otherwise held court in the middle part of the first round and done relatively well for themselves. It’s the rarity of the franchise finding itself with a top pick that had his dad comparing it to if Ryan had been drafted by the Detroit Red Wings.

“They’ve been to the Memorial Cup five times in the past 20 years and they won the league (in 2014),” Ryan said, proving he’d done his research on his new home. “I was actually there for their run a few years ago and it was so much fun.” The confines of the Sleeman Centre will be a little more friendly as well, as Merkley will also have a familiar face in the locker room with him; he works out and skates with Guelph’s third-round pick from last year Nick Deakin-Poot.

The dynamic defenceman wasn’t even thrown by the fact that he’s now the central figure in a big rivalry. Merkley’s family has ties to London which, of course, is Knights country. But is he concerned about who his family members will be siding with when he walks into Budweiser Gardens?

“They said they’ll come over and be Guelph fans, so hopefully when we go up to London they’ll be wearing Storm jerseys,” Merkley chuckled.

And if they’re still wearing Knights gear? “I’ll prove them wrong with a Guelph win hopefully.”

The only thing that threw a wrench into Merkley’s plans was watching teammates and friends scatter themselves across the OHL. Upon finding out one of his friends had been snapped up by the Kitchener Rangers, Merkley was disappointed. “I guess you guys are rivals now”, someone said. “I guess we are,” murmured Merkley as he turned back to the set and the smile quickly returned.

Now that the draft is over, a summer of training begins: getting bigger, stronger, and faster. That’s what’s on the mind of all the rookies as they set their sights on OHL rosters come September.

With that comes the added pressure of being a first overall pick, and drawing comparisons to other famous OHL Ryans in Ellis and Murphy. There will be blood, sweat, and tears,  ups and downs, and good days and bad. But for the Guelph Storm, their fans, and the new face of the franchise there will be one constant.

They can think about these two days in April…and smile.

Bryan Thiel is a freelance broadcaster who has covered the OHL from rink-side and the broadcast booth. He has also helped produce OHL features for the past four seasons. You can follow him on Twitter @BryanThiel_88.

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Playoff Recap: IceDogs, Colts Take Game One

By: Bryan Thiel


 

Niagara IceDogs @ Kingston Frontenacs

In the first round, both the IceDogs and Frontenacs dominated their opponents offensively, keeping both series to just five games. Early on, it was the IceDogs that quieted the Frontenacs, out-shooting them 16-4 in the first period. Of all those shots though, Vince Dunn was the only IceDog to score, throwing a shot on net from the point that found a way through Jeremy Helvig. After Helvig withstood that first-period barrage, it was Alex Nedeljkovic’s turn in the second period, but the veteran turned aside all 11 shots he faced (and the crossbar stopped one too). Helvig was slightly less busy facing nine shots, but yet again the IceDogs put one by him, as Anthony DiFruscia scored just seven minutes into the middle frame. In the third, Kingston finally solved Nedeljkovic as Lawson Crouse slid his fifth of the playoffs home on the power play, but that’s as close as the Fronts would get. Aaron Haydon would get the empty-netter, as Nedeljkovic would make 31 saves for the 3-1, game one win. The IceDogs got the production from the rest of the roster they were looking for, as Dunn finished with two points, DiFruscia scored his second of the playoffs, and Haydon scored his first.

IceDogs lead series 1-0

North Bay Battalion @ Barrie Colts

After two first round series that went seven games, the Battalion and Colts could very well go seven in this head-to-head matchup. While the Colts had an up-and-down opening round, they were all up in game one, and so was Andrew Mangiapane. The 51-goal man from the regular season opened the scoring late on a power play midway through the first, and then two minutes later put a beautiful move on Jake Smith as he finished off a give-and-go for an early 2-0 lead. The Colts weren’t done there, as two minutes after that Josh Carrick gave them an early 3-0 lead. Carrick would add his second of the game two minutes into the second, and it seemed like it would be all Colts from there. The Battalion made sure that wasn’t the case though, as Steve Harland and Kyle Wood scored in the third, but a Justin Scott empty-netter put the finishing touches on a 5-2 Colts win. Mangiapane and Kevin Labanc finished the game with three points each, while Scott nabbed his first assist of the playoffs for a two-point evening. MacKenzie Blackwood stopped 32 of 34 shots for the win, including 16 saves in the first period.

Colts lead series 1-0

Notable Quotable

“Momentum is everything in the playoffs, so it was really important we establish our game and establish our presence, and get the momentum right off the hop,” said Colts winger Keigan Goetz. – Barrie Examiner

“For whatever reason our compete level, our willingness to battle in the first period wasn’t high enough. The slow start cost us,” said head coach Paul McFarland. – Kingston Whig-Standard

Three Stars of the Night

1. Alex Nedeljkovic, Niagara IceDogs: 31 saves, game one win

2. Andrew Mangiapane, Barrie Colts: 2 Goals, 1 Assist, 1 PPG, +2

3. Josh Carrick, Barrie Colts: 2 Goals, +1, GWG

Bryan Thiel is a freelance broadcaster who has covered the OHL from rink-side and the broadcast booth. He has also helped produce OHL features for the past four seasons. You can follow him on Twitter @BryanThiel_88.

Quick Pix: Round 2 of #OHLPlayoffs Set to Go Tonight

By: Bryan Thiel


 

With round one out of the way, it’s time to get to the second round of the OHL playoffs. With just one upset in the entire league, the Erie Otters have to take on the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, which leaves us with another installment of the London Knights vs Kitchener Rangers. On the East side, it’s number one Kingston against number four Niagara, and North Bay against Barrie.

1. Erie Otters vs. 7. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

The Greyhounds are in a tough spot now. After spoiling the hopes and dreams of the Sarnia Sting, they have to do it to one of the CHL’s best in the Erie Otters. Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat have a strong core around them that can shoulder the offensive load if the two big guns get shut down, and I’ve always been a fan of Devin Williams in net. If Brandon Halverson can be as good in the second round as he was in the first, I think the Greyhounds can frustrate the Otters with a balanced attack. Can they pull of a second-straight upset? I don’t think so, but you never know. A team that’s seen to be playing with house money is always dangerous.

Otters in six

3. London Knights vs. 4. Kitchener Rangers

This series is always fun. It doesn’t matter how much time passes and who the stars are, the London Knights and Kitchener Rangers still hate each other. The Knights are one of the deeper teams in the CHL, with talent across the board. Cliff Pu had a good first round, and he’ll need that to continue as a secondary threat behind the Marner/Tkachuk/Dvorak trio with Max Jones out for the series. The Rangers are an interesting team though, in the fact that they’re deep too, and I don’t see a huge drop off in talent. Overall I think the Knights have more talent, but they’re undisciplined. London was shorthanded the third-most times in the first round, and finished with a bleak 65% on the penalty kill while the Rangers clicked on the power play at just under 35%. That’s not to say the Rangers were much better though, as they finished with the worst PK% at 55%, but were shorthanded 12 fewer times (in one fewer game) than the Knights and their 20.8% power play. The Knights won the season series 4-2, but coming out on top here all depends if they can keep their cool.

Rangers in seven

1.Kingston Frontenacs vs. 4. Niagara IceDogs

In the first round I said the Niagara IceDogs had the talent to at least make the Conference Finals. I still believe it, but if they want to do that they’ll have to make their way through the East’s best in the Kingston Frontenacs. Kingston made it through the first round with a high-powered offence lead by Michael Dal Colle and Spencer Watson, but I do wonder what might happen if Niagara can rattle Jeremy Helvig and Lucas Peressini a little bit. It’s one thing to be jumping back and forth between the two against Oshawa, but against Niagara it could be trouble. On the other side the IceDogs have one of the best in Alex Nedeljkovic, in spite of what the first round numbers might say. Josh Ho-Sang seems to have found a friend in Pavel Janys, and I think Niagara has good depth. They didn’t have to rely too much on it for additional offence against Ottawa though, so they’ll need everyone to be on their game from the start.

IceDogs in seven

2. Barrie Colts vs. 3. North Bay Battalion

In a matchup of two teams that had to go the distance in round one, two of the league’s four 50-goal scorers will go head-to-head. Mike Amadio’s goal-scoring prowess has carried over into the post-season, as he had nine goals and 14 points in the first round for North Bay. Andrew Mangipane meanwhile, was quiet by his 51-goal standards with just four in the first round, but two of them were game-winners, including the one that sent the Colts to round two. Kevin Labanc had a great first round with 12 points in seven games (he had a point in every game except a shutout loss in game six), but the hot hand belongs to Justin Scott. Scott scored 10 goals in the first round (one more than Amadio for the playoff lead), and is a huge part of a lethal Barrie attack. North Bay has always played their system well, and have some of their best weapons in years with Amadio, Kyle Wood, Cam Dineen, and Matt Santos. The problem will be what happens if the games open up. North Bay was fine when they were able to limit Peterborough’s offence in round one and let their stars go to work, but they always seemed a goal short when things started to open up against the Petes despite keeping things close. I think this one will be every bit as interesting as both of these teams’ first round series, with the Colts finding a way to move on.

Colts in seven

Bryan Thiel is a freelance broadcaster who has covered the OHL from rink-side and the broadcast booth. He has also helped produce OHL features for five seasons. You can follow him on Twitter @BryanThiel_88.

 

OHL Hands Out Discipline to Flint Firebirds and Rolf Nilsen

By: Bryan Thiel


The OHL handed out the discipline in the curious case of the Flint Firebirds’ this afternoon, and Commissioner David Branch was not happy with what a private investigation discovered.

Based upon an investigation at my request by Terrence O’Sullivan of the law firm of Lax O’Sullivan Lisus Gottlieb LLP, I am satisfied that Rolf Nilsen of the Flint Firebirds has on several occasions violated an agreement he signed on the 11th day of November, 2015, between himself and the OHL.  Those violations are contrary to the best interests of the players, the Team, and the OHL.

There are three layers to the discipline handed down by Branch in the release:

  • Rolf Nilsen be suspended by the OHL from being involved directly or indirectly with hockey operations of the Flint Firebirds for five (5) years effective immediately;
  • The Flint Firebirds forfeit a first round draft pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection (third pick overall);
  • A fine be paid by Rolf Nilsen to the League in the amount of Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars ($250,000.00)

Obviously the biggest sanctions fall against Nilsen, who has been embroiled in controversy since acquiring the team, including the player walkout this all stems from after Head Coach John Gruden was fired in early November, reportedly centering around son Hakon Nilsen’s ice time.

If he were to violate the terms handed down by branch, Rolf Nilsen would be forced to sell 100% of his stake in the team. In addition, if Nilsen wants to apply for some form of reinstatement, he has to wait three years before doing so.

For the Firebirds, the loss of the third overall selection doesn’t take them out of the first round. Before this they had two first round selections at third and fifth (Ryan McLeod refused to report last year and was traded to Mississauga). The Hamilton Bulldogs now select third.

Joe Birch will continue working with the franchise as Director of Hockey Operations, as they’ll look to fill vacancies at Head Coach, General Manager, and throughout the Hockey Ops staff.

Bryan Thiel is a freelance broadcaster who has covered the OHL from rink-side and the broadcast booth. He has also helped produce OHL features for the past four seasons. You can follow him on Twitter @BryanThiel_88.