New era be­gins for Bayshore Bears

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - SPORTS - GREG COWAN

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.”

NOTES:

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.

JAMES MASTERS/THE SUN TIMES/QMI

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.

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