TORONTO - Suspect goaltending was one of the big reasons why the Niagara IceDogs dug themselves a hole early in the OHL season.
But IceDogs coach/general manager Marty Williamson, who has been forced to sit world junior veteran and reigning OHL goalie of the year Mark Visentin due to a groin injury, didn't want to get completely buried in the surprisingly competitive Central Division. So, rather than wait to see if his two untried youngsters could get untracked enough to be trusted with the job of backing up Visentin he made a deal for a veteran, acquiring 18-year-old Chris Festarini from the Erie Otters on Oct. 19 for a sixth-round pick in 2013 and a conditional sixth-rounder in '15.
Problem solved. Or so Williamson hopes.
"Our goalie coach thinks (Festarini) has a lot of potential," Williamson said. "Goaltending was a tough situation for us. We weren't happy with the two guys who were backing up. We needed more wins. (And) it helps for next year because we know Mark will be gone. We needed a goalie with a birth date that will be around next year."
In other years, the IceDogs might have been content letting 17-year-old Mike Gallardi and 18-year-old Czech rookie Jaroslav Pavelka slowly find their way. But this isn't any other year. The IceDogs have championship aspirations and they couldn't take the sink-or-swim approach at such a critical position, not with Visentin a safe bet to miss nearly a month while playing for Canada at the 2012 world juniors.
Visentin is back in the lineup and playing well --he's only 3-3 but has a pair of shutouts already -- and Festarini, who was in a no-win situation with the rebuilding Otters and has the numbers to prove it, should be a significant upgrade over Gallardi and Pavelka.
Williamson also added some depth on the back end a week before the deal with Erie, getting 18-year-old defenceman Frank Schumacher from the Sudbury Wolves for the same price as Festarini -- a sixth in 2012 and a conditional sixth in '14.
With Boston Bruins first-rounder Dougie Hamilton seeing almost as much ice time as the referees and 19-year-old Brock Beukeboom still out of the lineup, the IceDogs needed to add another veteran. Schumacher, the odd-man out in Sudbury after overager Josh McFadden returned, fit the bill.
"We were down to six defencemen and we played the whole first part (of the season) with five," Williamson said. "I was running Dougie Hamilton out there too much. It was kind of a mess for us back there. We ended up being good dance partners (with Sudbury). Schumacher has a lot of talent and we needed to get more depth."
Even though the IceDogs got a huge lift when New York Islanders first-rounder Ryan Strome was sent back less than two weeks ago, Williamson might not be done dealing. There are rumblings out of Kingston that centre Ryan Spooner, a second-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2010, is going to be moved and you can be sure the IceDogs will want to get in on the action if they can.
"I like the way we're playing right now," Williamson said. "We're always listening. Nobody knows who's going to be buyers and sellers yet."
PONY BOY, AGAIN
Think Barrie Colts coach Dale Hawerchuk is a happy man this fine morn?
Getting a first-round NHL pick back, as Hawerchuk did Sunday when the Winnipeg Jets sent down forward Mark Scheifele, is bound to make any coach grin from ear to ear.
The Colts, the worst team in the league a year ago, are already over-achieving this season and getting Scheifele back is only going to make Barrie's group of forwards that include three of the league's top four scorers -- Zach Hall, Tanner Pearson and Colin Behenna -- that much more dangerous. Scheifele had 22 goals and 53 assists last year but, after the way he looked in the NHL preseason, don't be surprised if he goes on a tear right out of the gate.
By the way, think the Saginaw Spirit want a do-over in the trade that sent Scheifele to Barrie in the summer of 2010?
For those of you who don't recall, the deal sent Scheifele, a seventh-rounder of the Spirit in 2009, and a second-round pick (that hasn't even been used yet) to the Colts for overage goalie Mavric Parks, who played 50 games for the Spirit in 2010-11. Those are the types of deals GMs make for long playoff runs but Saginaw didn't get out of the second round.
That's about as lopsided as trades come, folks.
Windsor Spitfires overage forward Zack MacQueen should expect to be sitting out between eight and 12 games after picking up a major penalty for a check to the head of London Knights centre Vladislav Namestnikov Sunday. Namestnikov wasn't hurt on the play but the OHL has been cracking down hard on headshots, with 8-12 game suspensions the norm ... Tough news for draft-eligible Sarnia Sting forward Alex Galchenyuk, one of the league's brightest young stars. Galchenyuk, one of the top prospects for the 2012 NHL draft, will have knee surgery later this week and is expected to miss most, if not all, of the regular season ... Saginaw forward Brandon Saad, who started the season with the Chicago Blackhawks, is the OHL player of the week. Saad had six goals and four assists in three games ... Spitfires rookie forward Ty Bilcke has quickly become the league's busiest pugilist. In just 15 games, the 17-year-old from Exeter, Ont., has fought 12 times and racked up an OHL-best 68 penalty minutes.