OHL Western Conference

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

KITCHENER RANGERS

Head coach: Peter DeBoer (fifth year)

Arena: Dom Cardillo Arena at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium (6,400)

Last year: 35-20-9-4, third in Midwest division; beat Erie 4-2 in first round; beat Owen Sound 4-0 in second round; lost conference final to London 4-1.

Team history: Memorial Cup champions in 2003 and 1982.

Watch out for: F Evan McGrath. Team's former No. 1 draft pick was seventh in league scoring in 2004-05 (67 GP, 28 G, 87 P) . . . G Dan Turple (17-16-5, 2.36 GAA in 2004-05) returns after injured for most of the playoffs.

Gone: Heart-and-soul captain Mike Richards (11 G, 28 P in 15 playoff games in 2004-05) has graduated to the Philadelphia Flyers . . . Longtime defenceman Andre Benoit (24 G, 77 P) was the anchor on the power play.

Big news: Kitchener had 12 players, including Richards, attend NHL training camps this year. The Rangers also recently spent a team-building weekend at the International Hockey Training North, a facility on Big Harding Lake just outside of Haliburton.

Local connection: West Lorne native Justin Azevedo (18 G, 39 P) has a year in the OHL under his belt and should be one of the Rangers' top scorers this year.

Did you know? DeBoer only has had one losing season in 10 as a head coach in the OHL -- his second year with the Detroit Whalers in 1996-97 (26-34-6).

Outlook: After a strong playoff run last year, the Rangers are the team to beat in the Western Conference this season.

WINDSOR SPITFIRES

Head coach: Moe Mantha (first year)

Arena: Windsor Arena (4,400)

Last year: 26-29-6-7, third in West division; came back from three-game hole to upset Soo 4-3 in first round; lost to London 4-0 in second round.

Team history: Won 50 games once in franchise history in 1987-88 and qualified for the Memorial Cup that season.

Watch out for: G Kyle Knechtel (18-15-4, 3.60 GAA in 2004-05) . . . Seaforth native Cal O'Reilly (24 G, 74 P) had better than a point-a-game last season and returned to Spits with Ryan Garlock and Scott Todd from NHL camps . . . F Steve Downie and F Brett Liscomb might be the best one-two punch at knocking other teams off their game.

Gone: F John Scott Dickson (34 G, 76 P in 2004-05) is too old . . . G Brad Topping, a Strathroy native, has graduated . . . Windsor traded overage F Sean Courtney to Kitchener.

Big news: All of Windsor's games will be back on the radio this year on FM 95.1 the Rock with Shadd Dales as play-by-play man and Brendan McGuire taking care of colour commentary.

Local connection: Newly hired goalie coach and London native Bill Dark has worked with the Western Mustangs and various Western Junior B Hockey League teams.

Did you know? Mantha's assistant coaches will be two of the most popular players to wear the Spits uniform and both former team captains -- former high-scoring forward Billy Bowler and ex-defenceman D.J. Smith.

Outlook: There's enough veteran talent there to win the West division and get the Western Conference's second seed for the playoffs.

OWEN SOUND ATTACK

Head coach: Mike Stothers (fourth year)

Arena: Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre (4,300)

Last year: 40-18-7-3, second in Midwest division; beat Plymouth 4-0 in first round; lost to Kitchener 4-0 in second round.

Team history: Have never finished first in their division in the franchise's 23-year history. Their 90 points would've been good enough for a Western Conference title in some seasons, but last year, it was 30 points behind the Knights.

Watch out for: F Jeff Kyrzakos (25 G for St. Michael's Buzzers Junior A team in 2003-04) will be in top shape after working out with former Maple Leaf and noted fitness guru Gary Roberts during the offseason . . . Top-scoring F Bobby Ryan, currently at Anaheim training camp, is recovering from minor surgery and expected back with the Attack in early October.

Gone: D Trevor Koverko (1 G, 13 P in 2004-05) underwent shoulder surgery and will miss four to five months . . . F Brad Richardson (41 G, 97 P) will be nearly impossible to replace in the scoring department. He signed a three-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche in late July.

Big news: If he gets back to Owen Sound from Anaheim in time, Ryan (37 G, 89 P in 2004-05) should compete for the league scoring title.

Did you know? Owen Sound has had one OHL scoring leader in team history. Andrew Brunette had 62 goals and 162 points in the 1992-93 season.

Outlook: After underachieving in the playoffs, the Attack will be hungry for a better season this year and will grab third spot in the conference.

LONDON KNIGHTS

Head coach: Dale Hunter (fifth year)

Arena: John Labatt Centre (9,090)

Last year: 59-7-2, first in Midwest division and Western Conference; beat Guelph 4-0 in first round; beat Windsor 4-0 in second round; beat Kitchener 4-1 in conference final; beat Ottawa 4-1 in OHL final; went 4-0 on home ice to win franchise's first Memorial Cup title.

Team history: Long-suffering franchise capped possibly the best season in OHL history with its first league and Memorial Cup title in 2004-05.

Watch out for: F David Bolland. The Canadian world junior team candidate could be a 40-goal, 100-point man for the Knights this season . . . F Adam Perry scored seven times in six preseason games and tied with Robbie Drummond for team lead in exhibition points (10) . . . F Jordan Foreman can be a catalyst for this team.

Gone: F Corey Perry (60 GP, 47 G, 130 P) was the league's top player last year . . . Team captain and D Danny Syvret (Canadian Hockey League defenceman of the year) signed with the Edmonton Oilers this summer . . . F Brandon Prust (48 GP, 10 G, 30 P, 174 PIM) is in the Calgary Flames organization . . . F Danny Fritsche (30 GP, 18 G, 37 P) and D Marc Methot (4 G, 16 P) moved on to the pro ranks with Columbus . . . D Bryan Rodney (23 G, 62 P) and D Dan Girardi (9 G, 39 P) were over-agers last year.

Big news: The Hunters aren't selling the hockey team. But I heard . . . Repeat. The Hunters aren't selling the hockey team.

Local connections: Londoner Drummond, a Knights speedster, is experimenting on defence after playing forward for his entire career . . . Tough guy F Kelly Thomson (9 G, 15 P, 161 PIM) hopes to retain an over-age spot with the Knights.

Did you know? Team trainer Don Brankley is entering his 35th season with the OHL squad.

Outlook: No one is foolish enough to think the Knights will dominate like last year, but they can still be good enough to finish in the top half of the Western Conference.

SOO GREYHOUNDS

Head coach: Craig Hartsburg (Stratford native is in second year of five-year agreement)

Arena: For the final time, the 3,990-seat Soo Memorial Gardens will be the Hounds' house. Following the season, the Gardens will be turned into a parking lot for the new sports and entertainment centre being built next door.

Last year: 33-25-9-1, first in West division; lost to Windsor 4-3 in first round.

Team history: Qualified for three consecutive Memorial Cup tournaments and finally won the title on home ice in 1993. The 1984-85 squad is still the only OHL team to go undefeated on home ice in a regular season (33-0)

Watch out for: Embro native Cody Thornton (64 GP, 23 G, 46 P in 2004-05) was traded to the Soo from Belleville in June . . . F Ryan McInerney (5 G, 18 P in 2004-05) has to be a hustler and so does big RW Chris Lawrence (11 G, 51 P in 2004-05).

Gone: No more fine play from London F Jeff Carter (55 GP, 34 G, 74 P in 2004-05), who graduated to the Philadelphia Flyers this year . . . Burly D Jordan Smith (5 G, 32 P) was a leader and has moved on to the pro ranks.

Big news: General manager Dave Torrrie, the former boss of the Chatham Maroons, signed a two-year extension and will remain in Sault Ste. Marie through 2008.

Local connections: London G Kyle Gajewski (34 GP, 2.55 GAA) had the lowest goals-against average among rookies in the league; D Tyson Aitcheson is a Stratford native.

Did you know?: Wayne Gretzky still holds the franchise record for points in a season with 182 during his lone year in the Soo (1977-78)

Outlook: This team will have to fight for everything it gets without Carter, but it has the personnel to work hard every night.

PLYMOUTH WHALERS

Head coach: Mike Vellucci (fifth year)

Arena: Compuware Sports Arena (4,500)

Last year: 30-29-6-3, second in West division; lost to Owen Sound 4-0 in first round.

Team history: The Whalers franchise has won eight division titles and qualified for the playoffs in every season but their expansion year of 1990-91.

Watch out for: Overage F John Vigilane (24 G, 62 P) was second in team scoring last year and leads the team with 199 regular-season games played . . . Whalers retain last year's goalie tandem of Ryan Nie (2.56 GAA in 57 GP) and Justin Garay (3.63 GAA in 22 GP)

Gone: F John Mitchell lead Plymouth in scoring (25 G, 75 P) in 2004-05 and will need to be replaced . . . Czech F Jonas Fiedler (19 G, 37 P) was an over-age player last year.

Big news: The average age of this Whalers squad is just younger than 18, "so we're a real young team compared to some," Vellucci said. "Just because you're young doesn't mean you're not going to be good."

Did you know? Vellucci has a .596 regular-season winning percentage in four years behind the Whalers bench.

Outlook: Youth is great, but the Whalers are still a year away from being a force in the league. Sixth in the conference.

SARNIA STING

Head coach: Shawn Camp (second year)

Arena: Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre (5,200)

Last year: 16-41-6-5, fifth in West division; missed playoffs.

Team history: Moved to Sarnia in 1994 after 15 years in Cornwall and Newmarket.

Watch out for: F Richard Clune (21 G, 34 P, 103 PIM) could score 30 goals this year . . . F Harrison Reed was traded to Sarnia from the Knights and has been a consistent scorer in the preseason.

Gone: F Brad Efthimiou (27 G, 61 P) led the Sting in scoring last year . . . G Ryan Munce, a Los Angeles Kings draft pick, has moved on to the pro ranks.

Big news: Over-age goalie Jeff MacDougald made his first appearance of the preseason on Sunday, stopping 32 of 34 Windsor shots in a 6-2 win and will be ready to start the season. The puckstopper, who lost only seven games last year with the Petes, was picked up in a three-way trade with Peterborough and Mississauga.

Local connection: Bright's Grove native and D Scott Boomsma was picked up from the Brampton Battalion last week for a 15th round pick.

Did you know?: As a Pete, MacDougald won the 2005 Dan Snyder Award for OHL humanitarian of the year.

Outlook: A bounce back up in the standings and a playoff spot in Sarnia. Seventh.

ERIE OTTERS

Head coach: Woodstock native Dave MacQueen (seventh year)

Arena: Tulio Arena (5,500)

Last year: 31-26-6-5, fourth in Midwest division; lost to Kitchener 4-2 in first round.

Team history: The Otters arrived in Erie in 1996 and racked up three division titles (1999-02), winning the OHL title in 2002.

Watch out for: F Ryan O'Marra (25 G, 63 P in 2004-05) . . . F Michael Blunden (18-year-old had 10 power-play goals last season and has scored 22 goals in each of past two years). He has yet to score a playoff goal . . .

Gone: F Geoff Platt (45 goals in 2004-05). This is a huge hole since the Otters scored just 186 times in 2004-05 -- second fewest in club history . . . Over-age defenceman Brian Lee's 34 points were fifth on the team.

Big news: The Otters held a two-day preseason tournament with Saginaw, Toronto St. Mike's and Plymouth this year. Plymouth beat Saginaw 4-2 in the final and Erie beat Toronto 4-3 in the consolation game.

Did you know? The Otters franchise had seen a lot of cities before settling in Pennsylvania in 1996. It started as the Hamilton Fincups in 1974-75, transferred to St. Catharines for the 1976-77 season, became the Brantford Alexanders in 1978, the Hamilton Steelhawks in 1984 and the Niagara Falls Thunder in 1988.

Outlook: Erie will struggle to score again this year but be good enough for eighth in the conference in a squeaker.

GUELPH STORM

Head coach: Dave Barr (second year)

Arena: Guelph Sports and Entertainment Centre (5,100)

Last year: 23-34-10-1, fifth in Midwest division; lost to London 4-0 in first round.

Team history: Originally started in 1974 as the Toronto Marlies and moved to Guelph in 1991.

Watch out for: G Ryan MacDonald is a former Knight and G Jason Guy is a former St. Thomas Star and Knights prospect dealt to Storm as part of the the deal for G Adam Dennis . . . F Matt D'Agostini, a Montreal draft pick, scored 24 goals last year . . . F Ryan Callahan has put up 153 points and 241 PIM in 187 career games with Guelph.

Gone: D Ryan Card (7 G, 29 P in 2004-05) was an over-ager last year . . . Former Knight and F Rick Steadman (5 G, 15 P) has graduated from the OHL.

Big news: Barr (15 games) and defenceman Ryan Pottruff (12 games) will miss the start of the season with suspensions stemming from their first-round playoff series loss to London.

Local connections: London native D Shawn Haviland had four assists in 43 games with Guelph last year. F Tyler Doig (19 G, 41 P in 2004-05) is from Seaforth. Pottruff, traded to the Storm from the Knights last season, is from Woodstock. He had 3 G, 6 P in 2004-05.

Did you know? The Storm has won OHL titles in 2004 and 1998.

Outlook: The Storm will struggle out of the gate and all season to make up the difference.

SAGINAW SPIRIT

Head coach: Bob Mancini (first year)

Arena: The Dow Event Centre (5,497)

Last year: 18-42-4-4; fourth in West division; missed playoffs.

Team history: The franchise hasn't been close to a .500 record since moving from North Bay in 2002.

Watch out for: F Zack Torquato. The Spirit's first-round draft pick had 75 points in 47 games with the Stratford Cullitons last season . . . F Tom Mannino. Knights former first-rounder had 21 goals and 50 points split between Windsor and Saginaw last year . . . F Ryan McDonough, who scored 15 goals in Sudbury last year, tallied four times during the exhibition season.

Gone: Head coach Doug Lidster was replaced by Mancini, who was one of the founding members of the U.S. national development team with former Guelph head coach Jeff Jackson.

Big news: Saginaw owner Dick Garber wants the Spirit to start winning for their fans, who have averaged 4,200 per game over the past three losing seasons.

Local connections: D Patrick McNeill, a Strathroy native, is the Spirit's rock on the blue-line . . . D Garrett Sinfield, who was acquired from Owen Sound last year, played well during the preseason.

Did you know? With their fourth coach in the past four seasons, Saginaw is still searching for that all-important stability.

Outlook: Improving, but slowly. It's going to be a tight race for the final playoff spot.


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