As we find ourselves nearing the holiday break in the Ontario Hockey League, already, many teams have made personnel changes, either in the front office, or behind the bench, in an effort to find success before it’s too late. Two coaches and a General Manager have already been relieved of their duties in the Ontario Hockey League, and, if you include the house-cleaning in Oshawa over the off-season, a number of new faces have stepped into prominent roles in the OHL in the past few months.

Beginning in Oshawa, the Generals are approaching the midway point of the season under both a new coach and General Manager, having relived Chris DiPiero and coach Gary Agnew of their duties after last year’s disappointing finish. Former Petes General Manager Jeff Twohey took the helm of the storied franchise, and hired former Windsor Spitfires Assistant Coach D.J. Smith to step behind the bench. Smith, who was part of the coaching staff that won back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2009 and 2010, brought a new style of play to the Generals, and it shows on the ice, where their 17-12-1-2 record has them competing with Belleville for the East Division lead. The duo of Twohey and Smith seems to have rejuvenated the club, and some consider the Generals potential contenders for the OHL Championship.

After a horrid 1-5 start to the season, the Peterborough Petes wasted no time in making a change, letting go of General Manager Dave Reid. Reid found little to no success at the OHL level after taking over for the aforementioned Twohey, missing the playoffs both years at the helm and overseeing a record of 48-84-4-6, leading to his eventually unavoidable release. Over the course of his tenure, the Petes saw a number of high-profile players leave the team for little to no valuable return, including Ryan Spooner, Austin Watson, and Matt Puempel. When team captain Slater Koekkoek spoke up about the team needing a change, the board of directors agreed. Coach Pelino and Petes’ Director of Player Personnel Mike Oke took over handling the hockey operations responsibilities, but the team hasn’t seen much improvement, going 7-15-3-1 since the change. The Petes also find themselves with another player who doesn’t want to play in Peterborough, as defender Derek Schoenmakers refused to report after a trade with Windsor, returning home to decide between waiting for a trade or enrolling in university.

The Erie Otters also chose to make a change to their hockey personnel this season, as long-time coach Robbie Ftorek was fired after leading Erie to a 7-15-5 record through nearly half of the OHL season. Ftorek was in his sixth season as coach of the Otters, and seemed to be instrumental in helping the development of 15-year old phenom Connor McDavid, who called his release a great loss, and thanked Ftorek via Twitter. The bright side for the Otters is that it allowed them the opportunity to bring another exceptional coach into the fold, as they hired former WHL coach Kris Knoblauch, who led the Kootenay Ice to the Western League Championship just last season. It was a surprise to many that Kootenay parted ways with their coach after a championship season, after finding out that he had interviewed for a coaching position at the University of Alberta without notifying the team. Kootenay’s loss becomes Erie’s gain, Knoblauch is a proven winner who can bring a new style of play to the Otters.

Another team to make a recent coaching change, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds last week let go of coach Mike Stapleton, replacing him with another former NHL’er, Sheldon Keefe. Keefe’s hiring was considered surprising to some, as many casual hockey observers only remember Keefe as the hockey bad-boy who’s claim to fame was his association with disgraced former agent David Frost, and his friendship with Mike Danton, who served jail time after engaging in a murder-for-hire plot against Frost.

Those who have been watching closely, however, claim that Sheldon’s hiring is no surprise, as since distancing himself from his former accomplices, he has turned his life around. After retiring from pro hockey in 2005, Keefe purchased the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the CCHL, and became the coach and general manager. He also got married, had children, basically, he finally grew up. In his six years with Pembroke, he also became a very good coach, as his club won five straight CCHL titles and a national championship in the process. Were it not for his past reputation, I’m sure Sheldon would have caught on with an OHL club long before now, and General Manager Kyle Dubas deserves a ton of credit for giving him a second chance. It’s clear when dealing with Sheldon that he is no longer the immature bad-boy that riled feathers with the 1999-2000 Barrie Colts, and could very well be the guy who turns things around in Sault Ste. Marie.

Players Of The Week

Top Forward

Justin Auger (Guelph Storm) – There were many interesting choices for the OHL’s Top Forward this past week, as a number of players put in terrific efforts across the province. One player who deserves recognition is right winger Justin Auger of the Guelph Storm, who ranked among the league leaders in points this week, finishing the week with two goals and six points in three games. After being held off of the scoresheet Tuesday night in Kitchener, a shootout victory by his Storm, Justin would score a later goal Friday night, securing another victory, this time over Owen Sound. Saturday night, Auger was everywhere, and the end result would be a five-point performance in an 8-0 drubbing of Erie. In addition to his six point week, Justin also finished the week with a +6 rating, and earns our nod as the week’s Top Forward.

Top Defenceman

Ryan O’Connor (Barrie Colts) – Despite playing just two games this week, no player in the OHL had more points than Barrie Colts defender Ryan O’Connor, who seemed to control the play every minute he was on the ice. On Thursday night, Ryan registered a hat trick against the Sudbury Wolves as part of a four-point night, his goals the difference in a 5-2 victory. Saturday, Ryan opened the scoring against Kingston just 19 seconds into the game, posting a string of four straight goals scored by the rearguard. He would add two assists later in the game, helping his Colts defeat the Fronts. O’Connor would finish the week with four goals and seven points in those two contests, and left no doubt to our choice as the top defenceman this week.

Top Goaltender

J.P. Anderson (Sarnia Sting) – While some could argue for Guelph’s Garret Sparks, this week, we chose to award our Top Goaltender to the OHL’s all-time leader in wins, Sarnia’s J.P. Anderson, and with good cause, as he led all goaltenders in save percentage, and tied for the league lead in goals against average this week. On Thursday night, J.P. would stop all 42 shots he faced in Saginaw, his 12th career shutout would tie the OHL record for wins, but would be denied the record a night later, stopping 36 of 38 shots, but losing in a shootout to Windsor. Anderson would not be denied twice, however, as he gave up just one goal on 30 shots Sunday afternoon, posting his 115th career win over Sault Ste. Marie. In three games, J.P. posted a GAA of just 0.97, and a sizzling save percentage of .973, setting the new record in impressive fashion.

OHL Power Rankings

1. London Knights – (Last Week: 1) No change at the top of the OHL Power Rankings for another week, as the London Knights continue their dominance of the Ontario Hockey League. Three more victories this past week sees the Knights extend their winning streak to 18 games, a feat last matched by the 2005 London club that won the Memorial Cup. The Knights earned their wins this week Thursday in Brampton, Friday, back at home against Niagara, and Sunday afternoon, against Mississauga. London faces a three-game weekend before the Christmas break, beginning Friday night, when they play host to Owen Sound. Saturday afternoon, the Knights play in Guelph, then return home a day later to play against Kingston.

2. Owen Sound Attack – (Last Week: 2) It may not have been their best week of play this season, but the Owen Sound Attack hold position at number two this week, after dropping two of their three contests. After holding off Plymouth on Wednesday night, winning at home in a shootout, the Attack were unsuccessful in a pair of weekend games, losing in Guelph on Friday, and again Saturday, at home to Belleville. Owen Sound will be hard-pressed to avoid seeing their losing streak hit three games, as they begin the week ahead Friday night in London, before returning home to face Brampton on Saturday in their final game before the holiday break.

3. Barrie Colts – (Last Week: 4) Impressive wins in both contests this past week sees the Barrie Colts move back into the top three in the OHL Power Rankings, up one spot this week. Wins on home ice, Thursday over Sudbury, and Saturday against Kingston keep the Colts at the top of the Eastern Conference, and they have three more games before starting their holidays. Thursday night, Barrie plays host to Oshawa, and Plymouth comes to town on Saturday. The Colts end the week Sunday afternoon, with a game in Peterborough.

4. Guelph Storm – (Last Week: 7) With three wins in as many games this past week, the Guelph Storm leap up three spots in the OHL Power Rankings, landing at number four. The Storm needed a shootout to get past Kitchener on Tuesday night, and got better as the week went on, defeating Owen Sound on Friday, and winning in Erie on Saturday. Guelph has now won seven of their last eight games, and play two tough games before heading home on holidays. Friday night, the Storm play in Sarnia, and return home to play against London the next afternoon.

5. Sarnia Sting – (Last Week: 10) By earning five out of six possible points this past week, the Sarnia Sting own one of the week’s biggest jumps, up five spots to enter the top five. On Thursday night, the Sting posted a shutout victory in Saginaw, but lost in the shootout the following night, back at home against Windsor. Sunday, the Sting were back to their winning ways, defeating Sault Ste. Marie. Sarnia is now 6-0-0-1 in their last seven, and do not have another game away from home until 2013. The Sting have two more games before the holiday break, playing against Guelph on Friday, and Kingston on Saturday.

6. Belleville Bulls – (Last Week: 11) Another of the week’s biggest jumps on the Power Rankings belongs to the Belleville Bulls, who are up five spots to number six. Wednesday night, on home ice, the Bulls defeated Peterborough in overtime, then went out on the road where they earned two more victories, Friday night in Kitchener, and Saturday in Owen Sound. Belleville wraps up their four game road trip this week, albeit a lot closer to home, when they play in Ottawa Wednesday night, and Friday in Oshawa. Before the Bulls start their break, they return home for a contest with Mississauga on Saturday night.

7. Niagara IceDogs – (Last Week: 5) As things begin to tighten up in the league’s Eastern Conference, the Niagara Icedogs find themselves down two spots to number seven this week after splitting a pair of games. A big win at home over Ottawa on Thursday night was tempered by a loss the following night on national television in London. The ‘Dogs have three more games before the holiday break, beginning on Thursday night, when they play host to Erie. Niagara remains home for a game Saturday night against Sudbury, before finishing the weekend in Brampton Sunday afternoon.

8. Kitchener Rangers – (Last Week: 3) Proving that it’s tough to stay near the top of the Power Rankings, the Kitchener Rangers plummet five spots this week, landing at number eight after dropping all three games on home ice. The Rangers were able to pick up a pair of valuable points, first Tuesday, losing to Guelph in a shootout, and after a loss to Belleville Friday, Kitchener grabbed another point Sunday night, losing in the shootout against Ottawa. The Rangers have an excellent chance to get back to their winning ways this week, playing in Windsor on Thursday before starting a home and home set with Erie, ending in Pennsylvania Saturday night.

9. Oshawa Generals – (Last Week: 12) The Oshawa Generals are up three spots this week to number nine, based more on their solid play as of late than the last week, where they split a pair of weekend road games. Saturday night, the Generals won in Plymouth, but were defeated by a late goal the following afternoon in Windsor. Before starting their break, Oshawa plays three more games, beginning in Barrie on Thursday. The Generals return home for contests against Belleville Friday, and Ottawa on Sunday.

10. Plymouth Whalers – (Last Week: 9) The Plymouth Whalers are down to number ten this week, after losing all three of their contests. The Whalers did pick up a couple of points, losing in a shootout in Owen Sound on Wednesday, and in overtime at home to Saginaw on Friday. Plymouth dropped another home game Saturday, against Oshawa, seeing their winless streak reach four games. The Whalers have three road games between now and the holiday break, beginning on Wednesday night in Sault Ste. Marie. Plymouth moves on to contests Friday in Sudbury and Saturday in Barrie.

11. Mississauga Steelheads – (Last Week: 6) Two more losses this week sees the Mississauga Steelheads winless streak climb to five games, and they fall five spots to number eleven in the OHL Power Rankings in the process. Friday night, the Steelheads lost in Sudbury, followed by another loss Sunday afternoon in London. Mississauga faces a three-game weekend ahead of them, opening Friday night in Kingston, and moving on to Belleville the next night. Sunday afternoon, the Steelheads wrap up their pre-Christmas schedule, hosting Sudbury.

12. Brampton Battalion – (Last Week: 8) Playing .500 hockey lately, the Brampton Battalion drop four spots to number twelve this week in the Power Rankings, after losing two out of three games. Thursday night, the Battalion lost at home to London, a one-goal decision, and lost another tight game the next night in Kingston. Brampton finished the week on a high note Sunday afternoon, winning back at home over Erie. The troops play three games in four nights this week, which begins in Peterborough on Thursday night. Over the weekend, Brampton plays in Owen Sound Saturday night, and the following afternoon, back at home against Niagara.

13. Kingston Frontenacs – (Last Week: 13) With three points in as many games, the Kingston Frontenacs hold firm in this week’s OHL Power Rankings, remaining at number thirteen. Thursday night, the Fronts lost an overtime decision in Peterborough, but won the next night, back at home, against Brampton. Kingston ended the week with a loss in Barrie, but have a three-game weekend ahead to get back into the win column. Friday night, the Frontenacs host Mississauga, then head out on the road, playing in Sarnia on Saturday night, and in London on Sunday afternoon.

14. Windsor Spitfires – (Last Week: 16) Three wins in as many games sees the Windsor Spitfires gaining ground, both in the Western Conference, and in the OHL Power Rankings, where they are up two spots to number fourteen this week. The Spits hung on to defeat Sault Ste. Marie on Thursday night, and won in Sarnia a night later. Windsor completed the perfect weekend by defeating Oshawa on Sunday afternoon, back at home. Now on a five-game point streak, the Spitfires play three games in the coming week, beginning when they host Kitchener on Thursday night. From there, Windsor plays a pair of weekend games away from home, playing in Saginaw on Saturday, and in Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday night.

15. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – (Last Week: 15) With new coach Sheldon Keefe in place, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds hold firm at fifteen in the OHL Power Rankings, despite losing two of three games on their road trip this week. Thursday night, the Hounds lost a close game in Windsor, but rebounded on Saturday, winning in Saginaw to give Coach Keefe his first OHL win behind the bench. Sunday afternoon, Sault Ste. Marie lost in Sarnia to end the week. Like many teams, the Greyhounds have three more games before they break for the holidays, all in friendly confines at home. Plymouth comes to town on Wednesday night, and Sault Ste. Marie hosts Saginaw on Friday. The Hounds finish the week Sunday night with a game against Windsor.

16. Saginaw Spirit – (Last Week: 14) Winning just once in three games this week sees the Saginaw Spirit lose the momentum they had been building, and they slide two spots to land at sixteen. Thursday night, the Spirit were shutout on home ice by Sarnia, but an overtime win in Plymouth the next night gave Saginaw two important points. The Spirit lost back at home Saturday to Sault Ste. Marie to end the week, and play just twice between now and the holiday break. Friday night, the Spirit get a chance at redemption when they play in Sault Ste. Marie, and return home the following night to face Windsor.

17. Sudbury Wolves – (Last Week: 17) By taking three points in as many games this week, the Sudbury Wolves continue to hold firm, both in the OHL Power Rankings, and more importantly, in the OHL standings. After losing Thursday night in Barrie, the Wolves were better the next night, winning at home over Mississauga. Saturday night, Sudbury grabbed another point at home, losing in a shootout to Peterborough. The Wolves must get through a three-game weekend between now and the break, hosting Plymouth on Friday, then playing road games in Niagara Saturday, and in Mississauga Sunday afternoon.

18. Erie Otters – (Last Week: 18) While the Erie Otters would put an end to a six-game winless streak this week, they’ve begun another, and remain at number eighteen in the OHL Power Rankings. Friday night, a visit from Ottawa was the remedy to bust the slump, but the Otters dropped weekend decisions, home to Guelph on Saturday, and Sunday afternoon in Brampton. Things get no easier, as Erie faces an incredibly tough schedule over the week ahead, beginning Thursday night in Niagara. The next night, the Otters are in Mississauga, then return home, playing their final game before the break Saturday night against Kitchener.

19. Peterborough Petes – (Last Week: 20) Back up from the bottom of the Power Rankings, the Peterborough Petes are coming off of a successful week, and climb to number nineteen in the process. The Petes earned five out of six possible points this past week, beginning Wednesday, when they forced overtime in Belleville before losing. Peterborough used that momentum the following night, at home to Kingston, finding success in overtime. In Sudbury on Saturday night, the Petes went to extra time for the third straight game, and wound up on the right end of a shootout decision. Peterborough looks stay on the winning track with three more games, Thursday night at home to Brampton being the first. A night later, the Petes play in Ottawa before finishing the weekend Sunday afternoon on home ice, taking on Barrie.

20. Ottawa 67’s – (Last Week: 19) The Ottawa 67’s will be more than happy to see a disastrous nine-game road trip now behind them, as they would lose the first eight games before finally finding success in the final game of the trip. To be known the rest of the season simply as ‘the trip’, the 67’s were annihilated Thursday night in Niagara, and lost again a night later in Erie, before finally putting forth a solid effort Sunday night, winning a shootout in Kitchener. Returning home, Ottawa hopes to put some victories together, as they handle visits from Belleville on Wednesday and Peterborough Friday, before wrapping up their pre-holiday schedule in Oshawa on Sunday evening.

Don’t forget that the newest edition of ‘In The O... The Magazine’ is now available for download, and is our biggest issue to date, featuring an interview with Sarnia Sting forward and Montreal Canadiens prospect Alex Galchenyuk. We also have one player’s position on the much-maligned CHLPA, a recap of the recent Silver Stick Tournament in Whitby, and a look into recent renovations around the league. We also compare how this season’s upcoming NHL draft class compares to one of the best in recent history, as we look back at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. The December edition, and all past editions, are available for free download at http://www.intheoradio.com/ito-monthly-e-zine. The ITO Players of the Week and OHL Power Rankings can be found every week for the rest of the season, right here at OHLWriters.com. Until then, join me on Twitter for conversation anytime, @N24Nicholson.

 

Anthony Nicholson is the Sports Editor for Toronto News 24 and regular contributor to OHLWriters.com, and can be heard occasionally on ‘In The O... The Radio Show’. Contact Anthony anytime for a conversation by joining him on Twitter, or send mail to anicholson@n24.ca.

Photo: J.P. Anderson became the Ontario Hockey League’s all-time leader in Wins Sunday afternoon, earning his 115th victory over the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. (Photo Courtesy: Terry Wilson/OHLImages)