Major junior hockey is a crapshoot: you can draft the biggest upcoming star and have him on your team for as long as five years (if the birthdates line up correctly) or he can graduate to the NHL after just two.
In the pros, general managers skillfully assemble the best possible teams through drafting high, making big trades or making a splash during free agency; in the Ontario Hockey League, for example, GMs must be much more precise, forecasting several years ahead while operating under the pretense that they have a very short window to go from cellar-dweller to contender.
The Kingston Frontenacs made one such plan just a few years ago, looking to star prospects such as Sam Bennett, Roland McKeown, and Lawson Crouse to become the foundation for a future OHL contender. But when Bennett’s OHL career essentially came to a premature end last season due to both injury and an early promotion to the NHL, things looked somewhat bleak for the club as the 2015-16 season approached.
Bolstered by the additions of Michael Dal Colle and Stephen Desrocher (both of whom won an OHL championship and a Memorial Cup last year with the Frontenacs current first-round opponents, the Oshawa Generals) as well as the rise of Spencer Watson (who scored 89 points, including 43 goals this season), the first-seed in the Eastern Conference has proven that they don’t need Bennett to be successful.
In fact, they are in prime position to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in a whopping 18 years — something that has fans feeling understandably rejuvenated about their team.
“Make no mistake about it – our goal is to win the OHL and go on to the Memorial Cup,” Dal Colle told thewhig.com. “We can’t get too high or too low at any point. The city is looking for a good playoff run and that’s in the back of our mind. We want to give back to the fans. They’ve been amazing since I’ve been here. Hopefully we can give back to them with a long run.”
Game one of the quarter-final series was a total success; the Frontenacs shut-out the Generals by a score of 6-0, getting quality offensive production from the back end by both McKeown (2-1-3) and Desrocher (0-2-2). Game two was all about the offense. Warren Foegele scored four goals, Dal Colle broke-out with five assists, Watson notched a goal and three assists and Crouse tallied two goals en route to a 7-3 victory. That’s 13 goals to Oshawa’s three in just two games — a pretty great start.
Heading to Oshawa for the third and fourth games of the series may give the defending Memorial Cup champions a slight edge in the form of home-ice advantage, but the prospect of them coming back to win the series at this point looks all but dead.
“We expect that (game three) to be their best game,” Kingston head coach Paul McFarland said. “Back at home playing in front of home fans. We are going to have to be better than we were tonight (game two) to get the result we are looking for.”
While the line of Foegele, Dal Colle and Watson was clearly the best in game two, the next couple of games are going to require a lot more depth scoring. Eight skaters registered at least one point in each of the previous two games, but it’s common knowledge that spreading the wealth leads to the best results, especially in the postseason.
There’s no question that McFarland would like to see Ryan Verbeek and Chad Duchesne, both scoreless through the first two games of the playoffs, get on the board; but with key contributions from their top players and a hot goalie in Jeremy Helvig (0.936 save percentage and 1.50 goals against average), everything appears to be going right for the Fronts early on in their opening-round matchup against the Generals.