Soo Greyhounds, N.B. Trappers Midgets in tight race
As they take a break from Great North Midget Hockey League play until Dec. 16, just two points stand between the Soo Greyhounds and North Bay Trappers atop the standings of the seven-team loop.
And while the Soo leads North Bay by two points, the Trappers have three games in hand on the Greyhounds.
To date, the Greyhounds have 37 points from a record of 17-3-3. The Trappers have a record of 17-2-1, good for 35 points.
A weekend to mark on the “must-see” calendar for followers of the GNMHL is Dec. 16-18, when the Greyhounds will play host to the Trappers in three games slated for the Soo.
Statistically, the Greyhounds feature four of the top five scorers in the GNMHL.
Lucas Theriault, a 2016 Ontario Hockey League draft pick of the Niagara Ice Dogs, tops the Great North scoring chart with 19 goals and 51 points.
Three other Soo forwards rank third, fourth and fifth in league scoring — Noah Boman has 21 goals and 19 assists, followed by Caleb Wood at 21-18-39 and Camaryn Baber at 21-15-36.
In the goaltending department, Drew Joyal of North Bay has the best goals against average with a 1.11 mark.
OHL and American college scouts – not to mention Junior A hockey recruiters – might want to check out what should be a hotly contested, high-stakes, three-game set between the Greyhounds and Trappers in the Soo on Dec. 16-18.
In particular, a number of prime 2001 birth-year players dot the lineups of both teams, especially North Bay.
Of note, the aforementioned Baber of the Soo is considered a top prospect for the 2017 OHL draft.
North Bay, meanwhile, has several players who figure to garner attention at the 2017 OHL draft including goalie Joel Rainville, defenseman Payton Vescio and forwards Cole Craft and Ryan Mills.
Both Baber and Vescio have high-performance, OHL bloodlines.
Baber is the son of former Soo Greyhounds, 1993 Memorial Cup champion right winger Brad Baber.
Vescio is the son of Kevin Vescio, who patrolled the blue line for the erstwhile North Bay Centennials from 1982 to 1986 while learning the game from legendary coach Bert Templeton.
It was towards the end of the third week of October and the Soo Eagles were floundering near the bottom of the 12-team, Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League with an unsightly record of 4-11-2.
The Eagles were being held back by sub-par goal-tending, so-so defensive zone coverage and an ineffective power play.
But since then, things have come together in a big way for the Eagles, beginning with the goal-tending.
Frustrated with his team’s netminding, Eagles co-coach general manager Bruno Bragagnolo went out and signed American-born goalie Kade Phipps, who had been playing in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
And the rookie Phipps, who has a 1998 birth date, has been a saving grace between the pipes since his arrival in the Michigan Soo.
As of Dec. 9, and since joining the Eagles, the slender puck-stopper – who hails from Perrysburg, Ohio, the birthplace of legendary baseball manager Jim Leyland – has played in 13 of 15 games and has posted a 10-3-0 record to go with a 2.59 goals against average and .919 save percentage.
In all, the Eagles were 11-4-0 since the arrival of Phipps and have surged to the .500 mark with a 15-15-2 record as of Dec 9.
Probert & the A’s
Their history is one of modest length, yet the Brantford Alexanders remain an iconic Ontario Hockey League franchise mainly because of the number of well-known players who wore their red-white-and-black jersey from 1978 to 1984.
Initially the Hamilton Red Wings, then the Hamilton Fincups and St. Catharines Fincups, moved to Brantford in 1978 only to return to Hamilton in 1984 to become the Steelhawks. From there it became the Niagara Falls Thunder before another relocation of the franchise resulted in what are now the Erie Otters.
Meanwhile, even though the OHL was never a big hit in Brantford, where the Alexanders drew average crowds in the 1,500 range, alumni representing the erstwhile A’s reads like a virtual who’s who.
Consider the list of Alexanders alumni who starred in the OHL and went on to notable careers in the National Hockey League — goalies Allan Bester and Rick Wamsley, defensemen Mike Lalor, Randy Ladouceur and Ric Nattress and forwards Mike Bullard, Shayne Corson, Dave Gagner, Dave Hannan, Mark Hunter, the late great, former Detroit Red Wing Bob Probert and Greg Terrion.
And the number of high-performance players who skated in Brantford who either didn’t make it to the NHL or played there briefly is just as impressive — defensemen Grant Anderson, Bruce Bell, Mark Botell, Tony Curtale, Tom Della Maestra, Rob Moffat and Dave Robson and forwards Daryl Evans, Chris Kurysh, Todd Francis, Rick Goodfellow, Len Hachborn, Mike Hoffman, Jeff Jackson, Jason Lafreniere, Kevin Lavallee, Steve Linseman, Terry Maki, Paul Marshall, Mike Millar, Arthur Rutland, Scott Vanderburgh et al.
The Alexanders never won an OHL championship — nor did they ever make it to the league finals — but they had some success under coach-general manager Dave Draper.
Three times the Alexanders hooked up in memorable playoff series with the Soo Greyhounds only to lose all three times — including a seven-game affair in 1981-1982.