New era begins for Bayshore Bears
The cubs have taken over the Bear's den.
No matter what happens over the next few months in Attackland it should be full of the exuberance and embarrassment that comes with growing up.
Over a two-week period the Owen Sound Attack shipped out six players and a draft pick to get back a half-dozen newbies and 11 spots in future Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection drafts.
Attack GM Dale DeGray said he knew by the end of September this would be his deadline play, and never wavered. Not even as the Attack reeled off five-straight wins before the holiday break, including big victories over London and Ottawa.
“I'm looking at my whiteboard. At the bottom of the whiteboard in my office it says: Have a strategy. Be patient. Stick to the plan,” DeGray said. “I see it everyday . . . when I took this job a long, long time ago that's some of the advice I was given.”
Owen Sound started the season with two 17-year-old goalies, and DeGray said he knew at that time it would be a struggle for the Attack to compete unless the young netminders developed quickly - though he was quick to say the pressure wasn't all on their shoulders.
He didn't go looking for a veteran upgrade in the summer either, he said.
“We believe in the goalies that we have, and I think like many players you have to give them an opportunity to prove their worth. That's junior hockey,” he said. “I felt we had a good team. I thought the question mark would be where are we with goaltending. Now, do I think as we move forward here we can take leaps and bounds with the goaltending? One hundred per cent.”
He used Kevin Hancock's development as an example.
“The first 20 games in Ryan McGill's first year he was wondering what Kevin Hancock was doing there, and I said just hold on,” DeGray recalled.
The Attack boss said he understands the recoil of some fans who watched their team's superstars pack up and leave, but insists the alternative would have been worse.
“The fans don't know how hard it is to call them and have them leave, or have a kid disappointed that they're leaving what they now deem to be their home,” said
DeGray. “But quite honestly, not moving these boys would have been the worst thing that could happen to the Owen Sound Attack organization.”
They got younger, and perhaps meaner, but lost half of their offence.
The once high-flying Attack scored 135 goals as a squad before Wednesday's blockbuster. The players moved out-of-town represented over 70 of those tallies.
“We can still do the tic-tac-toe . . . but we'll have to pick our spots,” Todd Gill pointed out after his team's game on Wednesday night.
“Our team needed a little bit of grit, no question,” echoed DeGray. “The game is not the way it used to be, but our team tends to get too fancy. Maybe we need to be a little bit more blue-collar at times.”
Nick Suzuki goes down as one of the best to ever wear the sweater. His name has become synonymous with the Attack. He's all over the team's record book, and his number could one day hang from the rafters at the rink.
Now he'll close his junior career down south and wear No. 9 in the maroon of the Guelph Storm. To Attack fans it will look like Bobby Orr in a Blackhawks jersey, or Guy Lafleur with the diagonal word mark of the New York Woolley Rangers emblazoned across his torso.
Suzuki joins Markus Phillips in the Royal City. The pair of former first-round picks joined the Attack in 2015, and just came back from representing Canada on junior hockey's biggest stage. Together with Zach Roberts and Sean Durzi the quartet joins George Burnett's Frankenstein of OHL talent for the stretch run.
Hancock leaves for London in his over-age season as one of the league's top scorers and an undisputed leader while in Owen Sound. Mitchell Russell is flourishing with the Troops after being flipped to North Bay.
New to the Attack is a pair of 17-year-old defenceman in Andrew Perrott and Mark Woolley, a trio of 18-year-old forwards in Adam McMaster, Barret Kirwin and Sergey Popov and a 20-year-old veteran in Zach Poirier.
No blue chip 16-year-old prospect, but with four second-round, five third-round, and two fourthround picks coming back in deals, Owen Sound's scouting staff will have a better shot at finding one through the draft.
Or, DeGray can use that draft capital to load up if the Attack are better positioned for a run in the coming years.
A run like the Attack had in 2017 when they fell in the conference finals against the eventual champion Erie Otters - perhaps this Attack iteration's best shot at a title.
The departing players spoke fondly about Saturday night at the Bayshore. A junior hockey ideal that made national headlines in a Sportsnet profile penned by Gare Joyce.
That should stay. Barring a catastrophic run that drives even the most loyal and rowdy fans away, major junior hockey will still be played Saturday nights in Owen Sound with new players but the same presence.
“The one thing I've learned from being in Owen Sound is they're a passionate bunch,” DeGray said. "Quite honestly, I'm going to take some credit in the fact that I think these fans have become a little bit like me, in that, expectations should be that we are competitive every year, and that we make the playoffs every year, and I think the fans - in the 12 years I've been here - have become a lot like that.”
The conditional third-round pick in the trade that sent Nick Suzuki, Sean Durzi, and Zach Roberts to Guelph becomes a second-round pick if Ryan Merkley suits up for a game in the OHL next season.
The conditional fourth-round pick in the Markus Phillips deal to Guelph becomes a third-round selection if Phillips returns for an over-age season.
Attack GM Dale DeGray poses with first-round draft picks Nick Suzuki and Markus Phillips after the 2015 OHL Priority Selection. Now, in 2019, the pair are in Guelph and the Bears have a lot of new faces after a whirlwind trade deadline.