Breaking down the OHL

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

EAST

OTTAWA 67'S

Coach: Brian Kilrea

Last Year: 34-26-7-1 (6th)

Playoffs: Won conference championship, lost OHL final

The Word: Kilrea, who turns 71 next month, sets up behind the bench for another season. He can't have too many left before deciding to hang up the whistle. Unlike last year's group, these players will be willing to work every game. Sure, they'll have some bad games, but the effort will be there. Great group of overagers in G Danny Battochio, C Julian Talbot and RW Chris Hulit. Rookie C Logan Couture showed the potential for becoming a bona fide star during pre-season action. LW Tibor Radulay, a Slovakian import, is already receiving rave reviews. The defence is young, but Kilrea could make a deal to improve. This is a team that should challenge for top spot in an extremely competitive conference.

SUDBURY WOLVES

Coach: Mike Foligno

Last Year: 32-23-6-7 (5th)

Playoffs: Lost second round to 67's.

The Word: Here's a team that has a chance to rebound from a disappointing departure from last year's playoffs. Coach Foligno likes to have his players working hard, and that's what should make the team successful this season and challenge for the conference title. Tough guy Zach Stortini is gone to the pros, but the Wolves have adequate overagers in Ryan Hastings and Alexander Eaton. Up front, St. Isidore native Benoit Pouliot will be expected to lead the charge when he returns from NHL camp in Minnesota, along with Nick Foligno and Kevin Baker. In goal, veteran Kevin Beech takes over the top spot with the departure of Euro import Patrick Ehelechner. The Wolves should win their division, and finish second in the conference.

PETERBOROUGH PETES

Coach: Dick Todd

Last Year: 31-24-9-4 (2nd)

Playoffs: Lost conference final to 67's

The Word: Their four-game dismissal by the 67's in last year's conference final was considered an upset, and Petes fans everywhere had to settle for "Wait 'til next year." Now's the time for the Petes to do just that, and they've got the personnel to make a run for a league title. The only big loss from last year is captain Mark Flood. Otherwise, the Petes have most of the big guns back, including Jamie Tardif, Jordan Morrison, Liam Reddox, Daniel Ryder and Jordan Staal, who shone as a rookie last season. On defence, veterans Trevor Hendrikx and Kyle Raftis lead the way. Goalie David Shantz gets a new life after being acquired from Mississauga in a trade. If the Petes get things going early, they'll be tough to beat later, and, most importantly, in the playoffs where they could become the top contender for a berth in the Memorial Cup in Moncton.

ST. MICHAEL'S MAJORS

Coach: Bud Stefanski

Last Year: 29-30-6-3 (8th)

Playoffs: Beat Mississauga in first round, lost second round to Peterborough.

The Word: Owner Eugene Melnyk's other hockey team stunned the OHL last year by knocking off top-seed Mississauga in the opening round. It shouldn't have been that much of a shock, as coach Stefanski had the squad play gangbusters in the second half to come from way behind to make the playoffs. This year, the Majors won't need a late surge to get in, with plenty of scoring with the likes of Cory Vitarelli, Justin and Tyler Donati, and Jeff Larsh. On D, the club has lost former captain Nathan McIver, but a solid group of returnees will be more than capable of tidying things up in front of top goalie Justin Peters, who is considered one of the league's best.

KINGSTON FRONTENACS

Coach: Jim Hulton

Last Year: 28-33-4-3 (9th)

Playoffs: Missed

The Word: Some are picking the Fronts to fall flat on their faces again, but that's wrong. Hulton, a good young coach, helped the Canadian juniors win a gold medal as an assistant last January. He's got some firepower with the likes of Czech import Radek Smolenak, Bobby Bolt and Chris Stewart up front. National team member Anthony Stewart is gone, but he didn't help the team much last year, so his departure isn't as big a deal as some might believe. On defence, Orleans native Ben Shutron shone as a first-year player last year and is hoping to have a big year before his NHL draft eligibility next summer. In goal, the Fronts acquired Ottawa native Danny Taylor from Guelph in a June trade, and also have rookie Daryl Borden, who could be a league star in a few years. The Fronts need a few more wins this year ... and a new arena to replace the decrepit Memorial Centre.

BARRIE COLTS

Coach: Marty Williamson

Last Year: 33-23-9-3 (3rd)

Playoffs: Lost opening round to 67's.

The Word: The big question is in net where Dan LaCosta, who played poorly in the playoff series against Ottawa, has taken over the top spot. But up front, even with the departures of Rob Hisey and B.J. Crombeen, the Colts are stacked with the likes of superstar Bryan Little, Hunter Tremblay, Travis Fuller and Jakub Petruzalek, who was acquired from the 67's for a European draft pick. On defence, the team was shaky last year, but should be better with veterans Chris Morrison, Michael Root and Nathan Martine leading the way. Williamson is considered one of the top young coaches in the league and should be able to guide this team past the first round.

BELLEVILLE BULLS

Coach: George Burnett

Last Year: 29-29-6-4 (7th)

Playoffs: Lost opening round to Peterborough

The Word: Last season, the young Bulls got out to a surprisingly great start, but faded down the stretch. This year, they'll try to take a step up. Veteran Evan Brophey is the top gun, returning to the club after being taken in the third round by Chicago, and the Bulls will also expect production from former first-overall pick John Hughes, who scored 13 goals as a rookie last season. Overagers Matt Kelly and Matt Smyth won't be providing any welcome mats in the defensive zone and need to lead by example. In goal, Clarence Creek native Kevin Lalande, a Calgary draftee, gets the No. 1 spot and should be adequately backed up by Sebastien Dahm, a Dane who was picked up in the CHL European import draft.

BRAMPTON BATTALION

Coach: Stan Butler

Last Year: 33-24-9-2 (4th)

Playoffs: Lost first round to Sudbury

The Word: No team in the Eastern Conference heads into the season with as many questions as the Battalion, which would be higher in these rankings without the uncertainty. Will potential overager Luch Aquino stick in the pros in the New York Islanders' system or will he be back in junior? Will former top pick Wojtek Wolski stick with the Colorado Avalanche, or will he return to Brampton, where he led his club with 29 goals and 73 points last year? Without them, the Battalion will have a tough go. At least the defence is strong, led by the likes of Phil Oreskovic, John de Gray and Michael Vernace. Veteran Daren Machesney holds the top spot in net.

MISSISSAUGAI CEDOGS

Coach: Greg Gilbert

Last Year: 34-21-12-1 (1st)

Playoffs: Lost opening round to St. Michael's

The Word: It's time to rebuild in Mississauga. The 'Dogs had a great regular season last year, only to see everything collapse in a first-round loss to the Majors. Now they've lost Patrick O'Sullivan and his 90 points to the pros, and there's not much left on the offensive side, which means players like forward Cody Bass, who attended the Senators' rookie camp recently, will be leaned on for production. In goal, Michael Ouzas had an outstanding season last year and will need to put together a Danny Battochio-esque performance to get the 'Dogs into the post-season.

OSHAWA GENERALS

Coach: Randy Ladouceur

Last Year: 15-48-3-2

Playoffs: Missed

The Word: It can only get better in Oshawa, right? Well, maybe not this year. At least the future looks bright, with the addition of underage rookie John Tavares, who'll play as a 15-year-old after being taken first overall in the OHL draft. Former 67's centre Peter Tsimikalis will be expected to produce the bulk of the team's scoring, and he'll be supported by veterans Cal Clutterbuck (who has the best name in the OHL), and Adam Berti. In goal, the competition for the top spot seems to be wide open, with Ben Thomas leading the way with a strong camp. Nevertheless, it'll be another tough year in GM Town but, hey, better days are ahead for a proud franchise that's fallen on hard times.

WEST

KITCHENER RANGERS

Coach: Peter DeBoer

Last Year: 35-20-9-4 (4th)

Playoffs: Lost conference final to London

The Word: All signs point to another great year in Kitchener. Last year's solid season was overshadowed by the juggernaut in London, but this year should give the Rangers a shot at a league title. The departures of players like Mike Richards and David Clarkson up front and Ottawa native Andre Benoit on the blue line would usually spell trouble for most teams, but the Rangers still have a great crop of returnees, most notably on defence, including Gloucester native Mark Fraser. Up front, Evan McGrath, who scored 28 goals and 87 points last year, returns. In goal, overager Dan Turple could have a banner year. It all adds up to a great season in Kitchener.

PLYMOUTH WHALERS

Coach: Mike Vellucci.

Last Year: 30-29-6-3 (6th)

Playoffs: Lost first round to Owen Sound

The Word: Despite the loss of key components up front, on the blue line and in goal, the Whalers should be able to win their division. John Mitchell, who had 25 goals last year, is gone, as are goalie Ryan Nie and 48-point defenceman Mike Knight. But the Whalers have forwards John Vigilante, Dan Collins and James Neal coming back. Vigilante and Collins both had six-point nights in the season-opener on Wednesday against Saginaw. The defence is young and goalie Justin Garay didn't post outstanding numbers as a back-up to Nie last season, but look for the Whalers to move forward.

LONDON KNIGHTS

Coach: Dale Hunter

Last Year: 59-7-2-0 (1st)

Playoffs: Won league title, Memorial Cup

The Word: No act is tougher to follow -- or ever will be -- in the OHL. Last year's Knights went into the book as one of the finest in junior-hockey history. So what about this year? Many of last year's cast have moved on, including Corey Perry, Danny Syvret and Bryan Rodney. Others key veterans like Rob Schremp, Dylan Hunter, overage goalie Adam Dennis and Drew Larman have a chance at going pro. If the Knights get most of those guys back, they'll be good again this year, led by forward David Bolland.

WINDSOR SPITFIRES

Coach: Moe Mantha

Last Year: 26-29-6-7 (7th)

Playoffs: Lost second round to London

The Word: The Spitfires had a glorious moment in the first round of last year's playoffs, coming back from three down to beat the Soo in seven games before running into the Knights. This year should see an improved team challenge for the divisional crown, which would give the club home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Coach Mantha has offensive firepower, perhaps the best in the conference, in the likes of Cal O'Reilly, Steve Downie and Ryan Garlock, and also owns a solid defence. The question is in goal, and whether veteran Kyle Knechtel can lead the club like he did during its playoff upset over the Greyhounds.

SOO GREYHOUNDS

Coach: Craig Hartsburg

Last Year: 33-25-9-1 (2nd)

Playoffs: Lost first round to Windsor

The Word: Looking to rebound after a disappointing first-round exit against underdog Windsor, the Greyhounds will be in tough to repeat as divisional champs with the departure of centre Jeff Carter to the pros, import goalie Jakub Cech and D Jordan Smith. The Hounds still have some spark up front with Tyler Kennedy and Chris Lawrence, and will look for leadership on defence from Columbus draftee and former 67 Kyle Wharton, who wanted out of Ottawa and got shipped to the Soo at last year's trade deadline. Goalie Kyle Gajewski takes over for Cech in net and the team is high on import winger David Kuchejda, the 13th pick overall in the European draft, who makes his OHL debut tonight against Ottawa.

ERIE OTTERS

Coach: Dave MacQueen

Last Year: 31-26-6-5 (5th)

Playoffs: Lost first round to Kitchener

The Word: In goal, the big question is whether overager Josh Disher will return from the pros. He had a good camp with New Jersey and was assigned to the AHL affiliate in Albany. If he sticks there, the Otters could be in tough. Geoff Platt is gone after scoring 45 times last year, but Ryan O'Marra, who remains at New York Islanders' camp, and Gloucester native Michael Blunden are looking to improve on numbers of 25 and 22 goals, respectively. The Otters look good on defence, with the likes of Derek Merlini and Andrew Hotham leading the way.

SARNIASTING

Coach: Shawn Camp

Last Year: 16-41-6-5 (10th)

Playoffs: Missed

The Word: Ottawa native Camp had a tough go of it with last year's group, but hopes are high in Sarnia that the ship has been straightened and better times are ahead, as was in evidence at the end of last season when the team ended on a two-game win streak with nothing to play for. Former Petes goalie Jeff MacDougald has moved west and assumes the top spot from Ryan Munce, who has moved on. Up front, the Sting loses veteran Brad Efhimiou, but still has the likes of Chad Painchaud and Richard Clune. The defence needs to improve after allowing 228 goals last year.

GUELPH STORM

Coach: Dave Barr

Last Year: 23-34-10-1 (8th)

Playoffs: Lost first round to London

The Word: Coach Barr will miss the opening 15 games of the regular season as he serves a suspension for criticizing the officiating during last year's playoff series against London. How much will that affect the club? The Storm has a good defence, and will be led by first-rounder Ryan Parent, who was taken in the NHL draft by Nashville. Up front, the Storm would like to get forward Ryan Callaghan back, but he could turn pro with the New York Rangers. Goalie Ryan MacDonald, who won 20 games last year, is considered one of the better netminders in the league.

OWEN SOUNDATTACK

Coach: Mike Stothers

Last Year: 40-18-7-3 (3rd)

Playoffs: Lost second round to Kitchener

The Word: The Attack lost a lot of power up front, with the likes of Brad Richardson, Patrick Jarrett and Robin Big Snake moving on. They've also lost goalie Mike Brown to the pros, which means Neil Conway, a second-year player, gets thrust into the spotlight. Robby Ryan, who scored 37 goals last year, is out for the start of the season with an injured shoulder, so players like Mike Angelidis and Scott Giles need to pick up the slack. The defence is young, but should be able to help Conway, who gets the shot as a starter.

SAGINAW SPIRIT

Coach: Bob Mancini

Last Year: 18-42-4-4 (9th)

Playoffs: Missed

The Word: Saginaw might need the intervention of some kind of spirit to get things going this year. They can only hope that the season opener at home against Plymouth, a 7-2 whitewashing, isn't a sign of things to come. The Whalers fired 41 shots at new goalie Francois Thuot, a name with which 67's fans should be familiar. Thuot started in net for Barrie in the playoff opener against Ottawa last year, and predicted he was ready to lead the Colts to the Memorial Cup, only to play horribly and give the 67's wins they didn't deserve. The defence needs to play better. Last


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