The headline in the Toronto Sun of "It's Been a Dog's Breakfast for the Niagara was not nice. The fan forum icedogfans.com have been even less kind with a thread entitled "This is Embarassing". Niagara was a pre-season CHL #2 and expected to be a Memorial Cup contender in 2011 but they have stumbled out of the gate at 2-4-0-1 and collectively they have been pretty abysmal defensively, giving up 38 goals in 7 games, a far cry from the staunch defense that was ranked 2nd best in the league last year.
Seven games out of a 68 game schedule is a small sample size and no reason to push any sort of panic button. A little Rock like eye brow-raising concern though for the team's early fortunes are legitimate. They already 9 points in arrears of the Mississauga Majors and just endured an early weekend that featured a decisive 7-3 loss to London, a 5-4 SO loss to Sudbury and an ugly 8-6 loss to Barrie. So far in the early going the Ice Dogs have given up a seven spot on two occasions, and a six spot to go along with the eight goals the Colts hung on them. Mark Visentin has been injured and the combination of Jaroslav Pavelka and Mike Gallardi have been severely overmatched, a point that was re-enforced during the 7-3 loss to London in which the combination of Gallardi and Pavelka gave up three goals on three shots.
To hang this all on the defense and goaltending would be unfair. Hockey is after all a team game and my broadcast partner Ed Burkholder's favourite mantra is "If you don't have the puck, make sure that you have a man" . Offensively the Ice Dogs are putting up curious numbers. Andrew Aggozino has put up a solid 9 points in 7 games, but on the flip side is -9. Freddie Hamilton's outstanding offensive numbers (14 points in 7 games) have been offset by a sad -9. Steven Shipley is averaging a point a game in 7, but has a -6, while David Pacan is blazing a trail with 8 goals in 7 games, but then a dose of cold water is thrown on those numbers with a -2. Jesse Graham was the plus minus leader for rookies last year, but has started off the year -7. There are other examples, but the point is made.
Are there moves to be made? Possibly. The Ice Dogs desperately need some goaltending support, as they are very likely to lose Visentin for most of December due to world junior commitments. Dougie Hamilton, Freddie Hamilton and Ryan Strome could also be potentially on that list, and could further sap the depth of the Ice Dogs during a key portion of their schedule.
Niagara fans are anxious for a winner. They got a taste of success last year when the Ice Dogs got to the third round of the playoffs, and it was all supposed to come together this year, a year in which there is also expected to be a strong push of a new arena. On ice success will keep the antiquated Gatorade Garden City Complex full and happy. A Dog's breakfast? Not quite, but enough questions to raise a curious eyebrow or two.
- The numbers caught up with affable OA Johnson Andrews who was let go when Alex Friesen returned from AHL camp. Andrews is ripping up the Jr B with the St Catharines Falcons, and has lots to offer an OHL team.
-Ryan Strome remains with the New York Islanders, but has been a healthy scratch for the first couple of games. The betting is that he will return when the Isles get a couple of bodies off of IR. One of those injured for the Isles is Trevor Gillies, and why he still has a job in this league is beyond my reasoning.
- A new and very welcome feature on the OHL website is the breakdown of suspensions on video. Taking a page from the NHL the OHL has done a very nice job of highlighting the transgression via several different angles and then offering up their reasoning for the suspension. Each video is only about 25 seconds long and gets right to the point. You may not agree with the decisions, but the method of disseminating the information is to be lauded.
TV Cogeco returns after its one game Election Night Hiatus with the Belleville Bulls in town to face the Ice Dogs. Game time is 7:00pm on TV Cogeco in Niagara and on the OHL Action Pack. Ed, Al and I have the call.
Steve is in his 5th year as the television play by play voice of the Niagara Ice Dogs, and 6th year overall with the OHL.