I am eating a little crow at the moment, courtesy of the Soo Greyhounds, but rather than it being a stomach turner I find I am enjoying it immensely.
You see, last year when I did my 21st annual season roundup on the team from a fan’s point of view, I predicted a losing season for this year.
After all, we were losing productive forwards Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh, Tim Gettinger, Jack Kopacka and Hayden Verbeek, who among them scored 154 goals, and elite defencemen Conor Timmins and Noah Carroll for sure, with the possibility Mac Hollowell, Jordan Sambrook and Rasmus Sandin would also be gone.
On top of that we were going to enter the season with only three 19-year-olds, high-scoring centre Morgan Frost, goalie Matt Villalta and defenceman Anthony DeMeo.
Not a recipe for success by any means, was my assessment.
But although Sandin didn’t return, turning pro as an 18-year-old with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, Hollowell and Sambrook did and both had sensational years.
Keegen Howdeshell, who scored 16 goals as a 19-year-old, joined Hollowell and Sambrook as an overage and in doing so led the team in goals scored with 46.
I don’t know if any team in the Ontario Hockey League has ever had a better core of overagers.
Howdeshell added 33 assists to his 46 goals for a total of 77 points. Hollowell had 24 goals and 53 assists for 77 points and Sambrook 17 goals and 32 assists for 49 points.
With Frost having another great season, finishing second in scoring, Villalta turning in a solid performance in goal;17-year-old Cole MacKay boosting his goal total from five to 27, and Captain Barrett Hayton leading the way when he was free from injury, the Hounds, although I doubt they will admit it, had to have surprised even themselves.
They certainly surprised me.
They gave us such a great year that I have no problem swallowing the crow they put on my plate.
I will gladly take another helping at any time.
They tied for first place in the division with Saginaw Spirit but were relegated to second spot as Saginaw had one more win.
The Hounds took out the Owen Sound Attack in the first round in five games but lost in six games to Saginaw in the second.
I know some thought the team could have gone farther, should have gone farther, but teams with only three 19-year-olds are not constituted to be champions. I said this of last year’s team which had only three 18-year-olds.
Championship teams are stacked at the top end with all three overage spots filled, anywhere from eight to 10 19-year-olds and the same ratio of 18-year-olds.
But you won’t hear me complaining about what this team, players, coaches, management did; we were provided with a helluva season.
Looking to next year, we lose a lot again, with Frost and possibly Villalta moving on with the overagers. I say possibly about Villalta because I think he would benefit immensely from an overage year. As I wrote in last year’s column, defencemen Jake Muzzin and Colin Miller benefitted greatly from an overage year here.
Other than MacKay, we didn’t see much scoring from the youngsters on the team this past season but most held their own by their work ethic, keeping the other teams off the scoresheet.
Who knows how some of them might blossom, Howdeshell, for instance, got only 16 goals as a 19-year-old and added 30 to that total only a year later.
I am hoping some of that rubs off on Jaden Peca, who scored 12 goals between Barrie Colts and the Hounds. At the moment probably our only certain overage candidate for next year, Peca has a work ethic similar to what fan-favourite Verbeek showed us during his stay so he should at least double his goal and point totals.
The Hounds, as it stands now, will start next year with probably Peca as an overage, seven 19-year-olds, eight 18-year-olds and three 17-year-olds. To this point, only Hayton has shown much in the way of scoring talent, scoring 26 times and adding 40 assists in 39 games.
After Hayton comes MacKay with 27 goals and 34 assists, Ryan Roth with 21 goals and 21 assists and Zack Trott with 13 goals and 24 assists. No one else got out of the 20s in points.
The defencemen returning are Jacob LeGuerrier, Holden Wale, Ryan O’Rourke, Robert Calisti and Drew Wawrow.
In goal, if Villalta does not return, is this year’s backup, Ethan Taylor.
The ratios among the various age brackets are more in line with what I like to see, but some of the returnees are going to have to really step up their game.
One of those has to be Joe Carroll. He has flashes of brilliance and then disappears. I think we may have expected too much from him this year as the previous season, as a 16-year-old, he stepped in and performed well when Verbeek was injured during the playoffs. I still think, if the coaching staff can light a fire under him, that he could triple his nine-goal total of this season.
McKay, if he gets his shot on target more, could hit 40. In one game this season in which he got one goal, he was just a few inches off the net with shots that had the goalie beaten.
We did have some prize rookies in Tye Kartye, Ryan O’Rourke, Rory Kerins, Jaromir Pytlik and Cullen McLean, although we didn’t get to see as much of McLean as I thought we should.
Pytlik especially made an immediate mark after coming to the Hounds in mid-season. The 17-year-old scored 11 goals and added eight assists in 26 games. Undoubtedly he will be one of the team’s scoring leaders next year.
We have been fortunate in having so many winning teams over the past few years that I know somewhere along the line we have to run into a rough patch.
But no matter what happens, I will be there for as long as I can.
Go, Hounds, go.