If anything weighed down the remodeled Sarnia Sting in their most anticipated season of OHL hockey, the early guess would've been growing pains.
Not actual (knee) pain.
But the injury-stung Sting are left to build team chemistry without the services of Alex Galchenyuk, the former OHL first overall pick and potential top-10 selection in next summer's NHL draft.
The 17-year-old messed up his medial collateral ligament when he caught his skate in a rut during a pre-season game against Windsor and hasn't been able to play.
"It can be deflating," S arnia GM and head coach Jacques Beaulieu said. "Alex is well-liked by his teammates, he's a popular kid in the dressing room.
"He has a really strong work ethic and you see he raises the entire level of our work ethic in practice. We're going to miss that."
The OHL is going to miss it.
Together with Nail Yakupov, Galchenyuk formed the league's most dynamic offensive duo.
Some reports tabbed Galchenyuk out for up to 2-3 months, or even more. But he is still due to see knee expert Bob Giffin in London before a recovery timetable is worked out.
"We probably won't know until Friday," B eaulieu said. "We're crossing our fingers it's only one month."
Galchenyuk's status is the latest of the team's hurting tunes. One of Beaulieu's master strokes this summer was adding Connor Murphy, a top Phoenix Coyotes prospect, to fortify a leaky defence, but he hurt his knee at USA Hockey's world junior development camp and required surgery.
"We miss him," B eaulieu said. "He's a first-round NHL pick. How could you not?
"We think he can start skating again in two weeks, but there's a long rehab process (several months) in place before he can return to play for us."
No one made more off-season changes than Sarnia and Sault Ste. Marie, the two teams that missed the playoffs in the tough Western Conference last year. There have been several soul-crushing seasons in Sarnia the past decade with many triggered by less.
But Beaulieu, the former London Knights assistant, is guarding against a 'Why us?' mentality from seeping into the dressing room.
"Hopefully, we can win our games and pick up points," he said, "so when we get those two guys back, it'll feel like we added something without giving up draft picks."
There's still a buzz surrounding the club. The bad news on Galchenyuk may be something the rest of the guys can rally around.
"That's happening," B eaulieu said. "We've seen some signs of cohesion. We're still getting good crowds out and we're scoring goals, so we're entertaining.
"But we have a lot of players that don't necessarily come from programs that do the same things we want to do here."
And what they want to do in Sarnia is win, with no excuses necessary.
AROUND THE O
Most stirring comeback goes to the Peterborough Petes, who rallied from a 5-2 deficit with 81 seconds left to force overtime Saturday in Barrie. Defenceman Slater Koekkoek tied it with one second on the clock. All three goals were scored with the goalie pulled. Gutsy call by head coach Mike Pelino. The Colts, though, went on to win it in overtime... Barrie's Aaron Ekblad, the OHL's first overall pick, has no points, four penalty minutes and is minus-1 in his first five games. But numbers aren't going to tell his story the way they did for John Tavares, the last 15-yearold granted early entry into the league. Trust and reliability will dictate his success: Colts coach Dale Hawerchuk had the 6-foot-3, 207-pound Ekblad out for a late penalty kill against Peterborough and again in the final minute of regulation... Did holding the world juniors in Buffalo, the top prospects game at the Air Canada Centre and the Memorial Cup in Mississauga last season raise the OHL's profile in Toronto and give a long-needed boost to the GTA -- based teams? The Mississauga Majors had an announced crowd of 3,240 for their home opener, which was an OHL final rematch against Owen Sound. In their second home date against Kington, the crowd count was 1,424.