Hope, joy and challenges as junior hockey returns
IceDogs goalie makes ‘unbelievably inspiring’ comeback after injury
After the Barrie Colts’ home opener, their first regular-season game in 575 days, head coach/general manager Marty Williamson was candid.
“We are a good team (but) it’s going to take a while,” Williamson said after the 4-1 loss to the Niagara IceDogs.
All 20 OHL teams are dealing with the effects of not having a junior hockey season for over 18 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Players are going from individual workouts and lengthy training camps to the pace and physicality of a 68-game season. While the skills are evident, translating that to games might take more time than usual.
Teams usually forge an identity and style of play within a month. The consensus this season is that it will take even longer. Many coaches have adjusted their practice strategies in hopes of shortening that timeline.
“We’re implementing a lot of new drills,” said Mississauga Steelheads head coach James Richmond. “A lot of physical activity, throwing guys out in down-low plays and puck possession drills where other guys are leaning on them, because they haven’t been feeling that. We want to try to get up to speed as quickly as we can.”
Another factor is the unusually high number of rookies, with two draft classes entering the league at the same time.
The Guelph Storm have 15 firstyear players, the Owen Sound Attack 13.
“We just try to make things as simple as possible for the kids,” Attack coach Greg Walters said. “Coming from major or minor midget, there’s a lot to learn, most importantly away from the puck.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the desire to get off to a good start, no matter what the challenges. The Kingston Frontenacs — led by centre Shane Wright, the consensus No. 1 prospect for the 2022 NHL draft — are looking to bounce back after a 1-2 first week.
“I think it’s a little bit more of a race this year, because you want to put yourself in a position of success,” said Frontenacs head coach Luca Caputi. “The way you play against these teams is always going to resonate in their mind. It’s important to establish a tone early on.”
The enthusiasm was clear throughout the league in speaking with players, coaches and managers during the opening week, when 122 goals were scored over 20 games — comparable to previous years. There was also a sense of gratitude, for the chance to return to the ice after so long away.
“When a new horse is born, it’s jumping all around the field. That’s what these guys are doing right now,” Richmond said. “They’re showing their passion for the game and it’s fun to watch them.”
On Dec. 12, 2019, IceDogs goalie Tucker Tynan suffered a lifethreatening thigh laceration when he was accidentally cut by a skate. He vowed to come back better than ever.
On Oct. 7, 2021, he was the starting goalie in Niagara’s season opener against Barrie.
He’s also off to one of the hottest starts in the OHL.
The league’s goaltender of the week recorded a 1.44 goalsagainst average and .950 save percentage — both second-best in the OHL — in a pair of victories.
According to IceDogs head coach Billy Burke, the players “would go through a wall” for Tynan. During the off-season, the netminder did relentless rehab while in regular communication with the coaching staff. Over the summer, he also practised with the AHL’s Iowa Wild and the U.S. junior team.
Burke said it was seeing Tynan “keep his head above water” that gave him the confidence he could contribute this season: “He’s ready to make this next step. It’s unbelievably inspiring.”
WHAT’S THE DEAL?
The Colts traded Anaheim Ducks defence prospect Mathew Hill to the Oshawa Generals for a fifth-round draft pick in 2024. Oshawa was looking for a puck-moving, NHL-drafted defenceman to bolster a young blueline corps. From Barrie’s perspective, it was going to be hard for the team to carry two overage defencemen. One source, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely, said the Colts would’ve kept the 20-year-old Hill if he wasn’t overage. The Colts have eight defencemen, many younger than Hill and with more flexibility.
á The Peterborough Petes acquired overage forward Joe Carroll from the Soo Greyhounds for three picks: third(2022), sixth- and 12th-rounders (both 2023). Carroll was the Petes’ second overage addition in as many weeks, joining the Petes in consecutive weeks, joining forward Emmett Sproule, picked up from the Erie Otters. The six-foot-three Carroll adds size, experience and a top-level shot to the young Petes lineup.