Pither finds hot scoring stick as over-ager

DOUG GRAHAM, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

KINGSTON -- He was known more as Cool Hand Luke when he broke into the Ontario Hockey League as a 16-year-old in 2005.

The scoring hands went even colder in his rookie season with the Kingston Frontenacs when he scored just four times.

Four seasons later and with his fourth team, Luke Pither has the hot scoring stick at the start of his overage year with the Barrie Colts. Pither broke out for seven goals in Barrie's two wins to open the season.

Pither, 20, said a change in scenery and the confidence that comes with being an older player in the league have been key factors in his improved play.

He scored 33 goals in 186 games over his first 2 1/2 seasons, with Kingston and the Guelph Storm. In his last 25 games, with the Belleville Bulls (who he joined in January last season) and now Barrie, Pither has 26 goals.

"I think the big thing was the change of scenery. When I moved to Belleville from Guelph everything opened up for me.My confidence has gone up too, as I got older. In Belleville I was with Eric Tangradi and Bryan Cameron and now I'm here (in Barrie) and back with Cameron."

Coach Marty Williamson has used Pither and Cameron together, but has to decide on a left winger. The possibilities include Stefan Della Rovere, Josh Brittain and Darren Archibald.

On the power play, with Russian speedster Alexander Burmistrov, Pither has been deadly. He has six of his goals while Barrie has been a man up.

Undrafted to the NHL after entering the OHL as the fourth overall selection in 2005, Pither drew an invite this month to the New York Rangers rookie camp as a free agent. After his overage year with Barrie, Pither is hoping to get a shot in the American Hockey League.

"Getting to Traverse City (for Rangers rookie camp) was a good experience. I know what I have to do now to play at the next level," he said.

"I want to have a good year in Barrie and help the team maybe win a championship."

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Burmistrov, an 18-year-old first-year forward, is the early leader in the race for the top-rookie-not-eligible-for-rookie-of-the-year award.

Burmistrov, who has eight points in two games, is considered too old for the real rookie award, under the OHL's new definition. In order to be considered a rookie in the OHL, a player must begin his first season of play in his 17th birth year or younger.

In another twist, a second-year player still could be in rookie contention if the player, as a 16-year-old, played in less than a quarter (16 games) of the schedule.

Nick Cousins of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Boone Jenner of the Oshawa Generals lead the eligible rookies with four points in two games. David Broll of the Erie Otters has three assists and Alan Quine of the Frontenacs has scored two goals.

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The Ottawa 67's are getting defenceman Tyler Cuma back from the Minnesota Wild. He was among players farmed out by the NHL team yesterday . . . Windsor Spitfires general manager Warren Rychel cleared out extra bodies, sending five players to junior B clubs and trading overage forward Conor O'Donnell to the Guelph Storm. Standout defenceman Ryan Ellis, back from Nashville Predators camp, is expected to make his season debut tomorrow against the Erie Otters . . . The Colorado Avalanche signed Erie forward Ryan O'Reilly of Varna to a three-year entry-level contract. Along with the signing of Brampton Battalion star Matt Duchene, the Avalanche have come to terms with their top two draft picks from the draft . . . The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have sent centre Michael Fine home to North York, where the forward will contemplate his future.

Doug Graham is a sports columnist for Sun Media Newspapers.


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