As part of Metro’s London Knights preview, here are five teams of intrigue in the 2012-13 Ontario Hockey League season.
Kitchener Rangers (Midwest Division)
— The Knights’ toughest divisional opponent added a key piece to its core in the off-season, acquiring dynamic forward Matt Puempel from the Peterborough Petes. The potential 40-goal scorer joins the likes of Dallas Stars first-rounder Radek Faksa and should-be NHL super rookie Ryan Murphy on a roster with its fair share of impressive talent. The Rangers also boast perhaps the scariest 1-2 punch in an OHL crease, with John Gibson and Franky Palazzese standing guard. London meets Kitchener eight times in the regular season — buckle up, folks.
Barrie Colts (Central Division)
— Led by captain Ryan O’Connor, ex-Knight Andreas Athanasiou’s new club is in line to improve upon its third place showing in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12. Why? Because they’ll have Mark Scheifele, a man amongst boys and future cornerstone of the Winnipeg Jets, in the No. 1 centre spot. Though an end to the lockout will inevitably kill the buzz, Scheifele’s presence could easily pilot the Central Division favourites to a blazing start. With exceptional status rearguard Aaron Ekblad a year wiser, and goaltender Mathias Niederberger in fine form, the Colts have conference-winning capability.
Owen Sound Attack (Midwest Division)
— Out of the trio of second-tier teams in the Midwest Division, the Attack pose the greatest threat to London and Kitchener. Under the guidance of sophomore coach Greg Ireland and proven overager Nathan Chiarlitti, the small market franchise will again be reliant on solid backstopping from St. Louis Blues draft pick Jordan Binnington. They aren’t scoring deprived — sporting a relatively balanced forward corps — so the progression of promising defencemen, such as Chris Bigras, may be the 2011 OHL champs’ true tipping points in what projects to be an intriguing season.
Windsor Spitfires (West Division)
— Like the Knights of last September, the Spitfires appear to be a full campaign away from making a cannon ball splash in the high-powered Western Conference. However, London proved its critics wrong from the get-go, and Windsor’s elite talent collection is capable of doing the same. Must-see forwards Josh Ho-Sang, Patrick Sieloff, and Kerby Rychel — all under the age of 19 — bring plenty to the table in terms of entertainment value. Overall, it won’t be tough for the under-.500 squad to improve on their 2011-12 numbers, including its woeful penalty kill, which was third worst in the OHL.
Sudbury Wolves (Central Division)
— Sudbury regrouped this summer after a quick, four-game exit in the 2012 OHL playoffs, to claim the Junior Club World Cup. While not an esteemed title in the hockey realm, any international tournament win is notable. The Wolves, who will certainly be mourning the loss of the league’s leading scorer, Michael Sgarboss, need to harness its off-season momentum in order to be taken seriously. There are questions in goal with Joel Vienneau, however, the squad’s assemblage of skilled wingers in Nick Baptiste, Josh Veino, and Brody Silk, is set for a productive year.
*This post also appears in Metro London’s Sept. 21 print edition