Friday, May 10, 2013

LLB's 2013 OLA Junior A Season Preview

The 2013 Junior A season is shaping up to be a season of change at the top. The Orangeville Northmen used a deep and talented group of 1991’s to carry the league banner for 5 years. Those 1991 born players have now graduated to MSL, leaving the Northmen searching for replacements for Jeremy and Jason Noble, Mitch Jones and Dillon Ward. Six Nations and Peterborough now seem poised to overthrow the Northmen-dominated league and bring back the Minto to these two tradition laden teams.

We see 2013 as being split into 3 distinct groups. Six Nations, Peterborough and Whitby should remain near the top and be the class of the league as they return solid cores while adding some new pieces to fill their few holes. After that you can play pick 'em with any one of KW, Orangeville, Brampton, Beaches, Burlington and Barrie fighting for playoff positioning in tight games throughout the season.  Short,  playoff free summers look to be in store for St. Catharines and Mississauga as they struggle to catch up to the middle group. 

It will be an exciting summer of games across the province and make sure you get out to enjoy as many games as possible. The full league schedule can be found here:

Predicted Order of Finish

1.        Six Nations Arrows
2.        Peterborough Lakers
3.        Whitby Warriors
4.        KW Braves
5.        Orangeville Northmen
6.        Brampton Excelsiors
7.        Toronto Beaches
8.        Burlington Chiefs
9.        Barrie Lakeshores
10.     St. Catharines Athletics
11.     Mississauga Tomahawks

Team Reports:

1-       Six Nations Arrows

Six Nations enter as the prohibitive favourites this year and return a strong core of players including Randy Staats, Johnny Powless, Josh Johnson and the goaltending duo of Warren Hill and Don Alton. Their league leading offense looks set to burn out goal lights across Ontario again in 2013 but this is a team that has one big monkey on their back, can they win when it counts in the playoffs?

Player to Watch: Johnny Powless

Powless had a down year (if 77 points in 14 games can be considered down) and much more will be expected of him this year. He battled injuries late in the season and playoffs but other than his 7 point outburst in game 3 of the Ontario Final, he was a non-factor in the rest of the series. If Powless learned the lesson by watching Jeremy Noble dominate the Championship series then the Arrows should plan for beautiful New Westminster in August.

Hank Delisle (trade –Burlington), Kevin Simpson (draft), Kason Tarbell (draft), Wayne Hill (Jr. B), Tyson Bomberry (Jr.B)
Derek Searle (trade-Burlington), Shayne Adams, Justin Pychel and Joel Matthews (overage)

2-       Peterborough Lakers

The Lakers have been darlings of the “This is the year” crowd for the past 2 years and that has translated into zero Ontario Final appearances over that time. Playing against veteran squads in Orangeville and Whitby can certainly slow a young team’s rise so maybe this really is their year, finally. They will need to find out early if Rob Crews can handle the starter’s job after playing well backing up Connor Danko last year. If not then the Lakers will turn to new acquisition, Donovan Fleischer (Six Nations Jr. B) to carry the goaltending load. Turner Evans, Zach Herreweyers, and Josh Currier all have an extra year of experience and should form the best offense outside of Six Nations.

Player to Watch: Zach Herreweyers

Herreweyers had a blistering start to the 2012 season but hit a bump mid-season as the full roster returned. His 10 points in 7 playoff games won’t cut it for a player with such dynamic skills. Turner Evans will carry the offense but the Lakers truly will reach the peak only if Herreweyers can become the consistent threat he showed glimpses of being in 2012.

Donovan Fleischer, Brine Rice (draft), Tyler Gaulton (draft) and Jake Fox (draft), Mat Gilray
Connor Danko (overage), Matt Crough (overage)

3-       Whitby Warriors

The 2011 Minto Cup champs seemed destined for a repeat in 2012 as hosts before it all came crashing down in the second round against an out for revenge Orangeville squad. The team that in 2011 always got the big save or timely goal just never got untracked and looked disjointed. The good news is that plenty of key members of the 2011-2012 team return for another year and will anchor a still strong Warriors team. Alexis Buque had a solid year in net assuming the starting spot with the loss of Zack Higgins. Dan Lintner, Reilly O’Connor, and Curtis Knight all return on offense while Chad Tutton and Graeme Hossack solidify the back door. Look for Clarington Green Gaels players Austin Shanks and Luke Laszkiewicz to push for roster spots.

Player to Watch: Ryan Keenan

Keenan survived his rookie year in 2011 and looked more comfortable in his second year. His game suffered when things got physical and that is an area he will need to improve in order to make the next step to the elite level. If the Warriors can get that from Keenan then they will be a long way towards replacing the production of Mark Cockerton.

Austin Shanks (Jr. B), Mitch Desnoo (Jr. B), Matt Hossack (Jr. B), Mike Biergard (Jr. B)
Mark Cockerton (overage), Davin Lindsay (Jr. B), Mike Power (overage), Mitch Wilde (overage), Zach Palmer (overage)

4-       KW Braves

The Braves turned a fast start into a surprising fifth place finish before they bowed out to the Peterborough Lakers in the first round. Dhane Smith’s breakout year pulled the entire offense forward and made the Braves an entertaining team to watch last year. More importantly, the core remains in place and given another year we look for them to push further up the standings. The big roster move to watch is whether the Braves can coax the Laidlaw brothers from the Junior B Halton Hills Bulldogs to make the drive to Waterloo full time.

Player to Watch: Dhane Smith

Smith enters his final season fresh off a brilliant 2012 and full of confidence from playing with the Buffalo Bandits of the NLL. The pressure will now be squarely on his shoulders to carry the Braves beyond the first round of the playoffs. Kyle Jackson provides a nice goal scoring complement to Smith’s game but KW will need Smith to be at his best if they want to be a serious threat in 2013.

Pat Masterson (trade-Burlington), Cody Filson (trade-Burlington), Davis Prince (Jr.B)
Drew Barfoot (overage)

5-       Orangeville Northmen

The defending Minto Cup champions will be unhappy at this ranking but it is a fair assessment given the large number of key players that graduated. Gone is the best player in Junior A, Jeremy Noble and the Minto Cup MVP, goalie Dillon Ward. That would be tough to replace in any year but add in the loss of Mitch Jones, Jason Noble, Jordan Critch, Brad Gillies and Hayden Smith and you’ve got plenty of roster spots to fill. Even with all the players out, teams that count out the Northmen do so at their own peril. They will still be formidable on defense and have added Jr. B standout goalie, Tyler Glebe from London to ease the loss of Ward. Jordan Dance and Rob Hellyer will carry bigger loads on offense this year which is a pretty darn good twosome for any team.

Player to Watch: Tyler Glebe

As Glebe goes, so go the Northmen this year. Having bounced around the Jr. B league before finding a home in London, Glebe enters his final year of Junior eligibility with big shoes to fill. His game has developed nicely over the past two years, enough that he spent the winter on the Toronto Rock practice roster after being a late round draft pick. If Glebe can make the transition then the Northmen will have yet another in a long line of solid goalies manning the pipes. If he cannot make the transition, then what is plan B?

Connor Brown (trade-Mississauga), Tyler Glebe (Jr. B), Eric Gultinen (Jr. B)
Jeremy Noble, Jason Noble, Dillon Ward, Brad Gillies, Hayden Smith, Dustin Caravello, Mitchell Jones (overage), Jack Fitzgerald (trade- St. Catharines)

6-       Brampton Excelsiors

The Excelsiors are one of those confounding teams that never seem to equal the sum of their parts. They have great offensive talent in Shane Macdonald, Dan Keane and Dylan Webster but last year they seemed to struggle to mesh together into a cohesive unit. It ultimately was their undoing as they fell to seventh spot and were dispatched by Whitby in 3 games. With no major changes for 2013, can the Excelsiors come together to be as good as they look on paper? Time will only tell but count us skeptical to start. If they can put it together, they would be serious challengers for the 4th spot and a real threat in the playoffs.

Player to Watch: Shane Macdonald

Macdonald was handed the keys to the BE offense from the start and he started out on fire. His 12 point game at home against Six Nations made the league sit up and take notice. Macdonald’s scoring slowed down late in the season as teams began to focus on shutting him down. He still finished with 98 points, good for third place but the Excelsiors will need more consistency in his game throughout the season in order to find their next level.

Conner Campbell (trade-Mississauga)
Jonathan Newhouse (trade- Mississauga), Steven Burke (trade-Mississauga)

7-       Toronto Beaches

The usual basement dwellers are no more! Shrewd talent management and key connections allowed the Beaches to continue their roster overhaul over the winter adding plenty of pieces to fill glaring needs on their roster. In a 2012 season that was missing talent up front and veteran goaltending, the Beaches have added Jr. B standouts, Ryan Lee and Chad Levick from Newmarket along with 2012 draft pick Dereck Downs from Mimico. They acquired Rance Vigneaux in a trade from Mississauga to shore up their goaltending and even brought back Paul Rebelo who scored 50 points for the Beach boys in 2011. This much needed front door help should lighten the load for returning stars Jackson Hulbert and Jordan Robertson. This year may not see a playoff run but the Beaches have built a strong young core for future success.

Player to Watch: Jackson Hulbert

Hulbert looks to follow up on his 58 point rookie season with a big leap as a sophomore. Having Lee on the right side will take some of the defensive focus off Hulbert and allow him the space needed to operate his power game. If Hulbert can mesh well with Lee then expect a big year for both in the blue and yellow.

Ryan Lee (Jr. B), Chad Levick (Jr. B), Dereck Downs (Jr. B), Paul Rebelo (returning), Tanner Thompson (draft)

8-       Burlington Chiefs

The Chiefs return the majority of their 2012 roster while adding Derek Searle to solidify their back end. With top scorers Patrick Corbett and Jacob Ruest in their final year of eligibility and with Ethan O’Connor a key loss to their transition, Burlington needs one of their young players to step up and become a serious scoring threat. Nolan Apers looks like the most likely candidate and the Chiefs are hoping he can mature quickly. If they can find a nice balance then expect Apers to push towards 30 goals and the Chiefs will be a tough matchup for any defense.

Player to Watch: Doug Buchan

Craig Wende, John McNamara, Davide Diruscio, Cam Watts and Brandon Noble. These are the goalies that have played significant time for the Chiefs since the start of 2009. You could say that the volatility of the goaltender position is holding the Chiefs back from being a serious contender. Into this fire steps Doug Buchan who was acquired in a 2012 trade with St. Catharines. Buchan will need to solidify the situation between the pipes for the Chiefs or else it could be a hot summer in Central Arena.

Keyan McQueen (Jr. B), Derek Searle (trade-Six Nations), Doug Buchan (trade- St. Catharines), Chris Young (Jr. B)
Ethan O’Connor (overage), John McNamara (overage), Craig Wende (overage)

9-       Barrie Lakeshores

We have dealt with the Lakeshores solid drafting of late in a previous post so we will not go into the nitty gritty here. Suffice it to say, we think Barrie is a team on the rise with a solid young offensive core. In our estimation, we think they will remain just outside the playoff picture unless they can seriously improve their back-end and get better goaltending from Kloepfer and Meigs. Both sported GAA above 12 and that number MUST improve for Barrie to crack the playoffs. The onus is on coach, Lindsay Sanderson to improve the defense to help out the goalies and lead Barrie back to the playoff promised-land.

Player to Watch: Brett Kloepfer/Nicholas Meigs

The goalie platoon of 2012 will not cut it and one of these two goalies needs to seize the starting role and earn the majority of minutes in net. Another year of uneven play and a goalie platoon will mean another year of disappointment for the Lakeshores.

                Nick Chaykowsky (draft)
Kenny Murphy (overage), Zach Tomkinson (overage)

10-    St. Catharines Athletics

2012 was a season of real disappointment in this lacrosse hotbed and a year end Fire Sale will not yield much but floor time for the young and inexperienced Athletics. The A’s will require a heroic effort from standout goalie, Eric Penney to crack even 5 wins in 2013 as they traded or lost to overage their top 5 scorers from last season. Look for Nicholas Beaudoin and Dylan Gatt to become the go-to players on offense with Ryan Daikin adding size up front to complement. Unfortunately with major upgrades in the Beaches and Barrie’s youth corps now more experienced, we do not think the Athletics will be close to the playoffs in 2013.

Player to Watch: Dylan Gatt

Gatt was a first round pick of Akwesasne in 2011 and then traded to the A’s to be closer to home. His first two years were spent apprenticing behind Shayne Adams and Joel Matthews so his stats are not as high as you would expect. Entering his third year, much more will be expected of him and he will be counted on for a huge jump in production. If he can push his points into the 60 point range than the A’s should be happy with year one of the rebuilding program. If he falls short, look for some hungry Spartan Jr. B players to push Gatt in 2014 back down the depth chart.

Austin Lane (draft), Owen Dixon (trade- Burlington)
Mike Melnychenko (overage), Jordie Daradick (overage)

11-    Mississauga Tomahawks

Misery loves company. Unfortunately for the Tomahawks the might be losing their usual basement dwelling friends in Barrie and Toronto. The issues in Mississauga are myriad but it ultimately comes down to years of neglect and a weak minor system that cannot support two junior teams. Before we get all doom and gloom and write off the Tommies, things are improving and they certainly have some decent pieces to build for the future. Anthony Joaquim remains to anchor the defense and they have some nice young pieces acquired over the years who, if they report, will help up front. Alas it is still very much a work in progress and one that could face real problems if Joaquim grows weary of the losing.

Player to Watch: Anthony Joaquim

It is hard to miss Joaquim on the floor. He is a mountain out there and has some of the best defensive instincts currently in the league. If he is willing to assume the mantle of leadership and drag the mish-mash Tomahawks roster ahead then look for Missy to potentially leap St. Catharines. If he asks out or cannot handle the task at hand, it will be yet another long season at Port Credit Arena.

Ryan Callaghan (Jr. B), Nick Ruggeri (trade- Brampton), Steven Burke (trade-Brampton), Jonathan Newhouse (trade-Brampton), JP Kealey (Jr. B)
Rance Vigneaux (trade-Beaches), Connor Campbell (trade-Brampton)

No comments:

Post a Comment