Wow, has it really been July 15 since I last posted? Talk about those lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer getting away from me. Seriously, a combination of writers block and a busy summer chasing around my now two year old kept me away from the computer and away from writing. Honestly, when I looked at the last posting I did, it really was far from my best work and had nothing really compelling to say. Hopefully, we can change that and also be able to post a little more frequently now that hockey season is upon us.
The first item of business to ponder is the Hockey News pre-season OHL rankings. Predictably London is at the top, and Barrie is right there with them. Now most of the list is pure speculation as its based on existing rosters and maybe a handful of exhibition games. Its not to say that they were throwing darts at the dartboard when predicting but it is far from a exhaustive, compelling in-depth look. The IceDogs are ranked 19th in the OHL just ahead of the Mississauga Steelheads. Should that come to fruition, it would mean that the Dogs would miss the playoffs for the first time in its 7 year inception in the Niagara Region.
There is no doubt that there is a youth movement abound in Niagara, and there is no doubt that over 100 goals have left the building in the form of Ryan Strome, Brett Ritchie and Steven Shipley. That said, I cannot see this IceDog team languishing close to the basement of the Eastern Conference. Of course the eyes are on fielding a competitive entry for the opening of the new building, whose corporate sponsor will be named today. (SPOILER ALERT: It's the Sundowner...no just kidding its Lundy's Lane T Shirt Shop). However, the Dogs also have a building to fill this and momentum to carry onto next year. Tanking the season and getting a high draft pick is nice, but in terms of doing business, a lousy season will not fill the seats.
Some things are going to have to happen for the IceDogs to be competitive. Carter Verhaeghe must continue to prove he was worthy of being a 3rd round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He became a very dangerous forward down the stretch for the Dogs and needs to elevate his game to a point per game production. Niagara will need at least 45 goals from Anthony DiFruscia and Brendan Perlini, and the goaltending duo of OA Chris Festarini and Brent Moran must be stellar. To me the most questions lie in the heart of the IceDogs defense. Smallish Jesse Graham and Luke Mercer will have to be up to the task of logging big minutes, but the duo of Blake Siebanaler, rescued from the NCAA and import Russian Alexander Mikulovic must pick up the slack. Aaron Haydon, injured to start the season must continue the physical and mental maturity he showed during the last part of the season. The card the IceDogs do have to play is that of the Over Age spot. Right Chris Festarini is a lock, while Mike Robinson may have the inside track on another spot. A veteran addition either on forward or defense may help Niagara.
Its tough to say goodbye to the likes of Strome, Ritchie and Shipley and have to lean on youth. The aforementioned were leaders on and off the ice, but lengthy pro careers await hopefully all three. There will be growing pains no doubt. But 19th overall? I can't see it. Lets go with 6th or 7th place in the conference and a 7th straight playoff performance.
See you at the rink!