SOHO XI weekend - OHL report
Eleven years ago I started a trip with friends of mine who are lifelong hockey nuts to see Canadian Hockey League games in
The beginning of this year's SOHO (Southern Ontario Hockey Outing....SOHO sounds infinitely better), our eleventh, fell on a fortuitous day for us - the gold medal game at the World Junior Championships was being played at 1:30 EST (in Sweden) between classic rivals Canada and Russia. As I've written in the past, the World Junior tournament is woefully under-publicized in much of the world, including here in the States. For all hockey and sports fans who may rue the day the Olympics allowed professionals to compete, the WJCs are in essence what the Olympics used to be, and still should be. Take the top hockey players in the world between the ages of 16-20, divide by country, and set them loose for two weeks over the holidays – that’s the WJC. In
There was no other option than to begin the weekend by watching the game alongside the highly partisan and passionate Canadian fanbase. With many thanks to the excellent people at Moose Winooski's in
On this night the crowd was buzzing from the start, likely buoyed (along with the rest of the country) by the earlier events of the day, and their excitement was rewarded early with the Rangers going up by a 2-0 score midway through the second period, with only Brampton goalie Bryan Pitton (Edmonton Oilers, fifth round - 2006 draft) keeping the game close. Pitton's work proved not to be in vain, as the game turned completely around at the midway point and
The next day our second game brought us to the
Today the Dogs hosted the Oshawa Generals and teenage sensation John Tavares. Tavares is a unique talent, enough that the OHL bent (and created) a number of rules to draft him at the absurdly young age of 14. This year at 16 he is still among the youngest players in the league and is currently leading the OHL in goals with 39. As such, our expectations were extremely high for him. Yet this Saturday was the Dogs' day. Led by the aptly named Michael Swift (NHL: free agent), the Dogs impressed with their speed and offensive skills. After 20 minutes, their shots started getting through the Generals, who looked spent this afternoon. Tavares in particular showed flashes of the talent that is making him a well-known name throughout
Day three was a doubleheader special for SOHO - an afternoon game at St. Michael's in Toronto where the visiting Sarnia Sting were in town, followed by an early evening tilt out in Oshawa to see a divisional battle against the Belleville Bulls. This is the final year that the Majors will be playing in the venerable St. Michael’s College School Arena, where it is no longer profitable to host the team. Next season the team will move out to nearby
A look at the list of Majors who have graduated on to the NHL over the past century is beyond impressive (with over 150 to date, including luminaries such as Gerry Cheevers, Davey Keon, Frank Mahovlich, and Tim Horton.), and this with the program discontinued from the early 1960s until ten years ago. St. Michael’s is a well-known prep school and the hockey program was discontinued in the 60s due to concerns that athletics were overshadowing academics. The Majors were revived in 1997 in a slightly modified form, where the players were not required to actually be students at the school, yet the franchise still retained a home at the school; a unique situation indeed. The team itself is having a rather down year, currently mired in last place in the Eastern Conference with a below-average offence and a goals-against that is third-worst in the 20 team league. Their deficiencies were well on display early, as they simply could not deal with
Drive 45 minutes east of uptown
As referenced above, for at least the next three seasons the Generals are completely geared around young John Tavares. Tavares has the makeup to be one of those players – the player that may only come around once a decade and creates an advance buzz wherever he plays. He won’t be eligible for the NHL draft until 2009 and already the expectations thrust upon him have been enormous, yet by nearly all standards he has delivered. Tavares was the one player we geared this weekend around (no doubt he felt the enormous pressure of a SOHO nation on Saturday afternoon) so we made no bones about our lack of objectivity this night – we wanted Tavares to impress. In the past we’d targeted highly touted players such as Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, Rick Nash, and Sidney Crosby, and the risk there is obvious: in such an absurdly small sample size of a game or two there’s a significant likelihood of the player either being ill or simply in a slump. For example, it took us four years to finally witness the exceptional skills of Spezza. In contrast, Nash won us over in nearly every game we saw.
Meanwhile, the Belleville Bulls came in on a hot streak, winners of seven of their previous nine and leading the East division over the host Generals. Tyler Donati, leading the OHL in scoring with 77 points, left us frustrated and perhaps with some insight as to why he has not been drafted or signed by an NHL team. Despite three points (two goals) on the night, he was a -3 which after watching the game was far more indicative of his play than the offensive totals he rang up. Donati appears to play the role of the consummate selfish hockey star, slapping his stick anytime he gets open anywhere in the offensive zone, while conversely he rarely looked for the open man himself while carrying the puck. Upon losing possession, his efforts to regain control of the play are minimal, to be kind. Donati’s negative energy would not be the story however…
Hype is a difficult concept to contend with, both for the player himself or the general public’s ability to filter it through an objective lens. We all bought into the John Tavares hype and by the midway point of period one, we were all on the verge of allowing ourselves to be overcome by unfair expectations – Tavares had one middling goal in game one and still looked out of sorts (and frankly, unimpressive) in the first ten minutes of game two. As if to remind us that he was still on the ice, Tavares scored a power play goal at the 12 minute mark. The goal itself was easy but Tavares earned full marks for working hard on the power play and putting himself in position for the goal. The first period ended with us needing more.
The second period was a clinic in supreme talent taking over a game. Three minutes in, Tavares grabbed the puck on a power play, skated to the top of the faceoff circle and with a wicked wrister stunned Belleville goalie Mike Murphy (NHL draft eligible: 2007). We were starting to learn his game – Tavares can appear almost lazy at times without the puck, but early in the game we saw his work on the penalty kill when he grabbed the puck and immediately shifted into a higher gear. This proves to be an effective weapon as during that second period
The third period was hotly contested, with
A poll wasn’t necessary – John Tavares had clinched our annual MVP award.
SOHO All-Stars over the past decade have included such standouts as Joe Thornton, Rick Nash, Jason Spezza, and Alexander Radulov. SOHO MVPs have also included flameouts like Rico Fata, Ivan Novoseltsev, and Gene Chiarello. This year will add names such as Steven Stamkos and defenceman Ryan Wilson (NHL free agent) of Sarnia, forwards Michael Swift, Jadran Beljo, Stefan Legein and goaltender Lucas Lobsinger (NHL draft eligible: 2007) of Mississauga, Bryan Pitton of Brampton, defenceman P.K. Subban (NHL draft eligible: 2007) of Belleville, and St. Mike’s Matt Caria. I would like to have seen more of Oshawa defenceman Michael Del Zotto, teammate of Steve Stamkos last year in Markham and the second pick in last year's OHL draft (behind Stamkos). Del Zotto may have just had a rough weekend but he seemed to have difficulty in the defensive zone when transitioning from the attack, a role he clearly enjoys.
John Tavares simply stood out among everyone (and now has a shot at being only the second multiple-SOHO MVP next to
Our trip then being essentially over, we all returned immediately to our hotel rooms and turned out the lights, ending yet another successful sojourn into the home of hockey. There exists a particular perception of
Before signing off, we need to give infinite thanks to our true SOHO All-stars, the Friends of SOHO: Lany, Jen, Mike, Scott, and Camsie - for making us feel at home in Kitchener/Waterloo all day Friday - pitchers are on us again upon our return.