IceDogs regroup for 2019
When the Niagara IceDogs opened training camp one year ago, it was championship or bust.
The IceDogs maintained from Day 1 an Ontario Hockey League title was their goal and would do anything and everything to make that happen.
The IceDogs did just that, trading away promising young players such as Billy Constantinou and Lleyton Moore, as well as several draft picks, in an effort to win a championship.
The championship didn’t materialize after the IceDogs were eliminated in the OHL semifinals by the Oshawa Generals, and many of the stars from that team have moved on to pro.
Gone are captain Ben Jones, along with fellow forwards Jason Robertson, Kirill Maksimov, Ivan Lodnia, Jack Studnicka. Toss in the loss of defencemen Matt Brassard, Johnathon Schaefer and Daniel Bukac, as well as the graduation of overage goalie Stephen Dhillon, and there was a different vibe as camp opened Tuesday at the Meridian Centre.
“Obviously, a ton of things would have to align for us to be thinking about going out and trying to bring in more players and go for it again,” IceDogs coach Billy Burke said. “It’s not a complete tear down or rebuild, but we certainly are starting to put the pieces into place to build it back up to where we feel we are championship contending.”
Burke feels last season’s difficult and premature end to the season will only make the organization stronger in the long run.
“You learn more things going through failure than going through success so while we had a great season last year, it didn’t end how we wanted it to and we learned from it,” said Burke, who will be joined behind the bench this season by associate coach Jody Hull and new assistant coach Mark Mancari. “Now we’re able to learn our next build with the lessons we learned last season while still having some legitimate stars to help guide the way and take a little bit of pressure off some of the younger guys.”
Burke said the organization will be patient and take a wait-and-see approach before deciding on their next course of action for this season.
“How does it start? How do our young guys step up? And go from there,” he said.
With so many players departed, Burke said competition for jobs at camp will be intense.
“We have four (Akil Thomas, Phil Tomasino, Kyen Sopa and either Bradey Johnson or Oliver Castleman) I would say are legit top six forwards, and the rest there are two spots open whether it’s veteran guys or young guys to round out the lineup,” he said. “We’re looking for guys who can step in and be everyday guys for us.
“If there are guys who impress us over the next two days, there’s a chance guys could be getting contracts Thursday afternoon.”
On defence, over-agers Elijah Roberts, Jacob Paquette and Drew Hunter return and Burke indicated two of those three will be retained to help mentor youngsters Mason Howard, Giancarlo Chanton, Issac Enright and Landon Cato.
In goal, Christian Sbaraglia would seem to have the inside track with promising youngsters Tucker Tynan and Josh Rosenzweig also in the mix.
Camp continues at the Meridian Centre Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. with scrimmages.
On Thursday scrimmages will be held from 8:45 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. and again from 10:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. The annual Black vs. White inter-squad game will take place at 7 p.m. All are open and free to the public.
The IceDogs take on the Barrie Colts Friday at 7 p.m. at the Vale Centre in Port Colborne in their first exhibition game followed by another pre-season game versus the Windsor Spitfires Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Fort Erie Leisureplex.
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