Since the Mississauga Ice Dogs entered the Ontario Hockey League there has been a distinct lack of accolades handed to the team. It seems the only award won with regularity by the ‘Dogs is the Jack Ferguson Award, handed out to the player who is drafted first overall each year. Once again with a woeful record of 3 wins, 56 losses and 7 ties, the Ice Dogs continued their domination over the “Fergie” award. Following in the footsteps of Jason Spezza, and Patrick Jarrett as first overall picks, comes Patrick O’Sullivan, a 5 foot 11 inch forward known for his scoring prowess. Will these high draft picks ever pay off for Mississauga? Perhaps, but a stable off-ice environment is also key to developing a winning team.
The Ice Dogs fired Coach Rick Vaive in the off season, making it 5 coaches in three seasons. The coach guiding this year’s Ice Dogs will be none other than Donald S. Cherry himself, the owner of the club. Cherry has been rumoured to have meddled with coaching decisions in the past and will now get a chance to run this club his way. However, Cherry has reversed his anti-European stance and this year’s edition of the team will boast two import players in its lineup. These are moves certain to draw fans to the rink, but hopefully they will also improve the fortunes of this franchise that wallows in mediocrity.
In 2000-2001 the Ice Dogs scored the fewest amount of goals in the OHL with a meager 157 goals fired into opposition nets. Leading the way offensively for Mississauga was rookie Pat Jarrett with 15 goals, 38 assists, and 53 points. Jarrett is a dynamic offensive player whose point totals should improve this upcoming season, however he will miss approximately the first month of the season due to a leg injury suffered while trying out for the Canadian under 18 team. Other offensive leaders were Ryan Courtney, who came over from Windsor in the Jason Spezza trade, with 9 goals, 23 assists, 32 points, Brian McGrattan, a power forward and team leader with 20 goals, 9 assists and 29 points, and Mike Wehrstedt with 12 goals 16 assists and 28 points. With young Patrick O’Sullivan in the lineup next year, as well as with the emergence of promising youngsters such as Brandon Robinson who really improved down the stretch last season, and Nathan O’Nabigon who finished the season with 24 points, the outlook is a bit brighter for Mississauga.
In addition the ‘Dogs have added a Russian sniper to their ranks in the form of Chicago Blackhawk draftee Igor Radulov. Of importance to this team though will be the return of Brian McGrattan as an overage player. He was not signed by the Los Angeles Kings, but after being passed over in this year’s NHL Draft he has secured a try-out with the Detroit Red Wings. The 6’4, 230 lb McGrattan is the team’s leader on the ice. Expect gritty forward Chris Thaler, to return as an overage forward this season. Rookies looking to break into the forward units include Jason Francis, Chris Curran, Andrew Dwyer, and possibly Pat Jarrett’s cousin Blair Jarrett if he doesn’t opt for U.S College play.
The Ice Dogs Achilles heel has been their defence. Last year they had an OHL worst 380 goals scored against them. The blueline will definitely be weakened by the departure of overager Omar Ennafati, who had 40 points last season, and also led the way with his physical brand of hockey. Rookie defenceman Grant Buckley shows sign of becoming an offensive force in this league, and import pick Alexander Sokhorod will also add offensive savvy to the Mississauga blueline. Brent Labre and Steven Rawski, two OHL veterans will likely return to anchor the blueline and to help young defensive hopefuls such as Chris Hawley develop into the type of players the Ice Dogs desperately need on the blueline. In addition, Mississauga acquired veteran OHL defenceman Mike Barrett from the Owen Sound Attack to add a steadying presence to the defensive corps.
Mississauga started last year with the tandem of Michael Mole and rookie Justin Dumont. By the end of the year the Ice Dogs had used four goaltenders. Dumont was dispatched to the lower ranks after struggling badly in his first year. Rob Garrick replaced him and the Ice Dogs later acquired former F.W “Dinty” Moore trophy winner for the rookie goaltender with the lowest goals against average, Andrew Sim from Sarnia. However Sim didn’t play much due to injuries and in his absence Mississauga got solid play from both Michael Mole and Rob Garrick.
Andrew Sim has since been traded however this year’s crease looks to be just as crowded with Michael Mole, highly regarded youngster Matt Tanel who was acquired from Plymouth as part of the Chad Wiseman trade last season, and a rookie, and overage returnee Rob Garrick , all battling for a job in training camp. As has been the case in previous seasons, goaltending has been a solid position for Mississauga, and this luxury may result in the Ice Dogs moving a body in order to shore up other weaker areas of the team.
The Ice Dogs stand a decent chance of improving on last year’s performance. They have a good core of young talent with Jarrett, O’Sullivan, Eady, O’Nabigon and Robinson leading the way. Igor Radulov also looks to be a dangerous addition to what could be a potent offense. What is needed however, is management to assemble a competent defensive corps. Too many times last season the Ice Dogs gave games away through defensive errors or simply lax defensive play. This year’s version of the Ice Dogs defence looks to be headed in the right direction, however, the addition of another veteran defensive leader wouldn’t hurt. The return of Brian McGrattan is also important as he plays hard every night and leads by example. With the right coaching and, of course, the addition of a European born players for the first time in Ice Dog history, this season should be a year of improvement for Mississauga. Perhaps it will be possible for these old ‘Dogs to learn new tricks.