Although it may be early in the OHL season, there is a certain sense of excitement circling the Owen Sound Attack. The team is off to a 3-1 record, beating both London and Kitchener, two organizations who are consistent power-house teams in the Western Conference. Many changes and improvements have been made to the Attack, which suggests a change in attitude as they head into the 2010-2011 season.
For starters, the Attack is equipped with the healthy, 18-year-old, Joey Hishon. Last season, Hishon was left healing a broken foot and injured knee which prevented him from making a noticeable impact in the ’09-10 season, as he only played 36 games. The Stratford, Ontario native was drafted in the 1st round of the 2010 NHL Draft (17th overall) to the Colorado Avalanche. TSN’s Bob McKenzie had Hishon ranked 51st overall, and many analysts labeled the pick as “off the board.” What some may have failed to consider is Hishon’s skill set, and the fact that in 2008-2009 the center prevailed with his best statistical season, of 37 goals and 81 points in 65 games. Furthermore, Rick Pracey, the chief scout for the Colorado Avalanche addressed the skeptics by ensuring that the injuries Hishon faced were non-factors and that the organization was focused mainly on his skill level. “We thought his skill level was in the upper echelon of the draft. One thing we have a strict policy about is: what’s important to us is important to us. If everybody saw our list and saw where we had Joey Hishon on our list, I don’t think there would be any questions.” It is expected that Hishon will prevail as the Attack’s leading scorer, the forward has already tallied 3 goals and 2 assists in the season’s first 2 games.
As far as leadership goes, Attack captain and Elmvale native Garrett Wilson is prepared to take on a larger leadership role. The 19-year-old left winger was drafted in the 4th round of the 2009 NHL Draft (107th overall) by the Florida Panthers. Wilson adds a competitive edge to the Attack and plays with an excellent two-way awareness. He is noted for driving to the net and for his effectiveness down low. His reputation for being a leader on and off the ice was a significant factor in why Owen Sound Attack head coach Mark Reeds opted to name Wilson captain. “It’s just a natural fit. For lack of a better term, he’s a coach’s dream. He follows direction...puts it out there every day in practice...tremendous work ethic.” Having an undisputed leader insures that the players will be provided with ample support and direction for the upcoming season.
Moving to the defensive end is Jesse Blacker, arguably the Attack’s best blue-liner. The 19-year-old Toronto native was selected in the 2nd round of the 2009 NHL Draft (58th overall) by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Blacker carries a sense of poise in the defensive zone as well as with handling the puck. The defenseman came to the Attack via trade for picks last season from the Windsor Spitfires. Despite being on one of the strongest teams in the CHL and clenching a Memorial Cup Championship under his belt, Blacker felt like he could be used in a more prominent role. This was simply not going to happen in Windsor due to the talent of Ryan Ellis and Cam Fowler playing most of the minutes. Blacker posted 30 points in 48 games after coming to Owen Sound and got the chance to develop into a stronger player through his abundant ice time. Recently, Blacker returned from the Maple Leafs camp with a new shelf of experience and will likely lead the Attack’s blue line in the 2010-11 season.
Starting goaltender Scott Stajcer, a 5th round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft (140th overall) to the New York Rangers has been identified as one of the most talented goalies in the Ontario Hockey League. The 19-year-old Cambridge native has been described by coach, Mark Reeds, as calm in the net with a strong sense of positioning. Stajcer’s style of play, along with his size (6 foot 3, 191lbs), reminds many analysts of a younger Steven Mason. In the 2008-09 season Stajcer captured the starting role from Tyler Beskorowany (now playing for the Dallas Stars affiliate team, the Texas Stars of the AHL). Playing on a struggling squad, Stajcer was able to raise the level of his game and finish with an even record (15-15-3-2), a .906 save percentage and 3.56 goals-against average. That same season, the netminder was invited to play in the 2009 CHL Top Prospects game. The 2009-2010 season struck Stajcer with greater misfortune partly due to the absence of top scorer, Joey Hishon. Rangers ‘ Player Personnel Director, Gordie Clark, commented on the situation by stating, “Near the end of the season, I caught one of his games, and by then he looked tired. That’s what happens when you average so many shots. His team clearly would have been much better with Hishon healthy. Hishon would have been scoring, and Scott would have been stopping the puck to get them into the playoffs.” This season the Attack have renewed scoring capabilities which will allow Stajcer to exercise the skills and experience he is bringing back with him from the New York Rangers training camp.
The biggest change to the Attack may have occurred with the recent separate but related trades of Steven Shipley to the Niagara IceDogs in exchange for Andrew Shaw, Matt Petgrave and three picks, while over-ager Jason Wilson was exchanged a few days later for 17-year-old sniper Andrew Fritsch.
Shaw, a 19-year-old Belleville native, enters his third year in the Ontario Hockey League. Known as being a fearless player, the center brings grit to the Attack’s forward line-up as well as solid skill and a nice hard shot. Shaw tallied 11 goals, 25 assists and 129 PIM last season and was among the leaders in the OHL for fighting majors.
Matt Petgrave, an 18-year-old defenseman hailing from Brampton, Ontario is expected to bring extra support to the backend. General Manager of the Attack, Dale DeGray, supported the addition of Petgrave, “He is a very talented defenseman with a lot of upside.”
Lastly, Andrew Fritsch, the young Brantford native, fills the gap within the Attack’s forwards and adds more talent to the top six. Last year Fritsch had an outstanding rookie season, coupled with his excellent hockey sense and accurate shot, Fritsch has the potential fit in with some of the OHL’s elite.
With many new faces on the Attack, it seems that there has been a shift in attitude amongst the players. Positioned in the smallest market in the CHL, the Owen Sound Attack have had a history of player`s reporting dissatisfaction which affects the general atmosphere amid the team. However, this season, the Attack presents an energetic group that has faith in the talent and depth of their roster.
The effort and enthusiasm displayed in the first few games by the Attack proves that the team has a strong core of returning players along with new addition rookies who seem to be motivated and engaged. Also, the trades made by Dale DeGray, have to this point, presented positive results. If the first week of the Attack`s season is anything close to indicative of how the season will prevail, it would be no surprise to see the Owen Sound Attack become a key contestant in the Western Conference.
- Vicky Grygar, In the O Blogger