January 27, 2010
Mississauga a major playerThe team no one is talking about could be a contender
By DOUG GRAHAM, QMI Agency
The Mississauga St. Michael's Majors may well be pulling double duty when it comes to flying under the radar in the Ontario Hockey League.
Nobody is talking about Dave Cameron's team, certainly not in the same breath as the Windsor Spitfires and the Barrie Colts.
On paper, the Spitfires and Colts remain the teams to bet on for reaching the OHL championship. And Windsor and Barrie are among the OHL cities bidding to host the 2011 Memorial Cup.
In both those categories, however, Mississauga has become a major player, too.
Right now, the Majors are staying within range of the Colts for the Central Division title. Mississauga is eight points back but the teams meet three more times.
At the very worst, the Majors will be the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and could meet Barrie in the final.
That would be a follow-up clash to the quarter-final last year when the Majors took Barrie out in five games.
Of course Colts head coach Marty Williamson has assembled a much older team this time around, one that just last week went through the West impressively with wins over Windsor, Plymouth and Saginaw.
Barrie has made several lineup changes in what amounts to a make-or-break run for the Memorial Cup.
Mississauga has gone about it quite differently. Cameron has only had one minor lineup change and the team was not active around the trading deadline.
Cameron is happy with what he has and what's not to like about the Majors:
n Best goaltending tandem in the league -- Chris Carrozzi and J.P. Anderson.
n A great leader and the coaches' poll winner last year as the league's best defensive defenceman, Cameron Gaunce.
n Cameron's deserved reputation as a coach who has very hard-working teams, together with what is the league's best goals-against record by far, makes for a team that is dangerous competition.
The Majors don't have a Taylor Hall or a Luke Pither to head up their offence. Heck, Mississauga doesn't even have a forward in the league's top 30 for scoring.
However, the Majors still have the third-best offence in the Eastern Conference. Devante Smith-Pelly, Casey Cizikas, Jordan Mayer and William Wallen, are all capable offensive players.
The thing that really stands out about the Majors -- and this is where the Memorial Cup bid comes in -- is that unlike Barrie and Windsor, Mississauga will have all its key players back next year. Cameron only has four 19-year-olds in his lineup, along with three overagers. Eighteen of the Majors are 18 and younger.
Among the Memorial Cup bidders, Mississauga, Kingston and Sault Ste. Marie all have more of a next-year look to them than Windsor or Barrie.
Yes, the OHL wants to go with the best bid presented from a business standpoint. There is no doubt, however, a team that is a serious league contender on its own merit, without using the bye route, also is preferred.
Mississauga fits that criteria. Moreover, Mississauga is a market that the OHL wants to enhance.
Mississauga owner Eugene Melnyk, as a thoroughbred owner, is familiar with morning line odds.
Those all point now to Windsor and Barrie as the OHL championship contenders and Windsor again as the Memorial Cup host for 2011.
However, right up there with the odds-on favourites as a serious contender are Melnyk's Majors.
AROUND THE OHL
Plymouth's Tyler Seguin surged into a seven-point lead over Windsor's Taylor Hall in the scoring race. Seguin put up 11 points last week and for the month has amassed 21 points in nine games. Hall could well be destined for another runner-up showing in the scoring race that many thought, at the start of the season, he would run away with. Seguin is really making a jump from last season. He finished 33rd overall. His 79 points this season are 12 more than he finished with last year ... It was a terribly unlucky week for the Peterborough Petes who, in the matter of days, lost Ryan Spooner (broken collarbone) and Jordan Watson (broken ankle) for at least the balance of the regular season. Jack Walchessen (knee) is also in that category ... Kingston defenceman Erik Gudbranson, who twice has been out of the lineup with a knee strain and then mononucleosis, almost got injured at the Prospects Game while standing on the bench. Gudbranson took a puck to the head but wasn't hurt.