We’re about a month into the 2012-13 Ontario Hockey League season and there are several surprise teams, both in terms of exceeding expectations and failing to meet them. In this week’s hot-stove the panel looks at which team has surprised them the most this year and why.
My surprise team so far has to be the Plymouth Whalers. Many, myself included, predicted them to finish first or second in the Western Conference, and right now they sit last in their division and second last in the West, only ahead of the rebuilding Erie Otters. While I do expect them to turn it around in a big way, I’d be lying if I said I saw them sitting second last in the Conference a month into the season; especially given the fact they have 11, yes 11, NHL drafted players.
When the '12/'13 season got under way I had the Peterborough Petes near the top of the Eastern conference and figured they would begin a stretch of a few good seasons.
They had what I thought was the best draft in the O 2 years ago with the selections of Nick Ritchie, Steven Varga, Stephen Nosad and Alex Robonson for starters. Add to that the 3rd overall pick this past season in Eric Cornel and you see the starting of a great young core.
Then you look at the veterans in Slater Koekkoek and Calrk Seymour on the back end along with Alan Quine, Brett Findlay, Francis Menard, Derek Mathers and import Jaro Tanus you can see why they would be looked upon as a top team in the East but they have struggled mightily off the hop here and it has already cost GM Dave Reid his job. More jobs may fall until this ship is righted too.
Peterborough needs to get some D help and find a goalie or their season will be lost before it really gets going.
No doubt for me it's the Kitchener Rangers without a shadow of a doubt. Sure their home opener has been delayed while renovations are completed at the Aud and their first eight games had to be played on the road. And an injury to the highly touted Justin Bailey hasn't helped, but at some point the excuses have to end.
Ryan Murphy has just one assist in eight games. Matt Puempel is the only point per game player with 8 in those eight games. Radek Faksa and Tobias Rieder have 7. All four should be above a point per game. Their defensive game at times has been atrocious and they've had problems scoring 5 on 5. There are only 3 plus players on the team. Not typical Steve Spott teams. About their only bright spot has been the goaltending of Franky Palazzese and John Gibson and their powerplay.
The Rangers are a team with too much talent and to deep a roster to have just a 3-4 record and sit one point out of last place in the Midwest division.
There have been some good starts. The Colts, Greyhounds and Attack to name a few; and another surprisingly bad start by the Plymouth Whalers. But they all pale in comparison to the Rangers in terms of surprises.
My surprise this season is how well the Kingston Frontenacs are competing. The Fronts (5-3-0-0) are only in their 2nd year of their "building the blueprint" youth movement plan. Clearly, they will only improve over the next two years, as they selected very well in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection.
Their four 16 year olds are not only in the lineup every night, but they are contributing. Spencer Watson has 8 points in 8 games and Sam Bennett has 5.
Roland McKeown and Dylan DiPerna have been playing a regular shift on defense and look right at home. Michael Moffat appears destined to become the "comeback player of the year," for the Fronts. He had a dismal -44 +/- last year, but has been arguably Kingston's most reliable defenseman this year, with 10 points and a +2 rating. Kingston's two imports, Mikko Vainonen, and Henri Ikonen are playing better and better in each game. Captain, Cody Alcock continues to lead the team in the right direction with his work ethic. Mike Morrison has been terrific in goal, and 19-year-old Colin Furlong appears to be the best backup the Fronts have had, in recent memory.
Certainly there will be bumps along the road this year, with such a young team, but what has been most surprising is how exciting this young team is. The offensive creativity, and poise displayed by these youngsters has been incredible.
They are fun to watch!