IceDogs wrap up season with loss
The 2022/23 season is finally, mercifully over for the Niagara IceDogs.
The IceDogs dropped a 10-4 decision to the Sarnia Sting Sunday afternoon at Meridian Centre to bring the curtain down on a frustrating, disappointing campaign that saw them finish last in the Ontario Hockey League with 12-47-8-1 record.
The 12 wins and .243 winning percentage set records for futility for the franchise in its 15 seasons of play since moving from Mississauga to Niagara. The IceDogs previous worst record was in 2019/20 when they finished 18-39-5-1 for a .333 winning percentage.
Despite the poor record, head coach Ryan Kuwabara said there were still some silver linings in all the black clouds.
“We made strides in some of the areas I wanted to improve on,” Kuwabara said. “It’s little foundational building blocks to move forward to give them some tips to work on, some stuff to work on in the summer and then come back ready to go.”
Kuwabara took over the team from interim coach Jeff DeAngelidis Dec. 1 with the team mired in last place with a 6-12-3 mark. Niagara replaced head coach Dan Fitzgerald following a 4-10-3 start. DeAngelidis went 2-2 in the interim.
Under Kuwabara, the IceDogs finished with a 6-41 record, including losing streaks of eight and 10 games.
Kuwabara, whose calm, cool and composed demeanour certainly came in handy with all the losing, admitted it was a challenge at times to remain motivated.
“It’s a learning experience for me to keep guys doing the right things and staying focused and positive,” he said. “It’s keeping that energy up. It’s definitely tough to come to the rink when it’s a battle each and every night for us. We have to have a lot of things fall into place.
“I thought some games we played really well and then other games it just wasn’t there for us. If we can learn from that and manage that and recognize when it’s maybe not happening for us and then maybe change course, change the systems and structure, but that’s all stuff we can start fresh when we come back.”
Kuwabara feels being on board from Day 1 next season will be a tremendous advantage.
“It’s going to be huge,” he said. “A lot of changes were made but it is what it is. That’s the game at some point but it’s going to be exciting for me to put together more of those building blocks and get us playing the way I’d like to play.”
Individually, the IceDogs appear to have a decent group to build around. Rookie Kevin He tied Akil Thomas’ team record for most goals by a rookie with 21 while speedy Alex Assadourian and sniper Zakary Lavoie were both good additions from Sudbury and Mississauga, respectively. As well, Declan Waddick potted 28 goals while Daniel Michaud added 23.
On defence, the club will lose overagers David Jesus, Nathan Ribau and Gerard Keane which will leave a big hole on the blueline. A return to health for captain Landon Cato would be big help — Cato played just 21 games this season dealing with a stubborn upper body injury — while Bronson Ride, added from Windsor at the trade deadline, showed promise.
Kuwabara preferred to talk in generalities when asked about his nucleus heading forward.
“Just the core of guys that were out there tonight,” he said. “Usually it’s a group effort for us, it’s never really one or two guys, but definitely moving forward I like our speed. I’d like us to be a little bit faster and that’s something I’m definitely going to challenge our guys to get stronger there. Work on those leg muscles. We want to play a little bit faster game, take away time and space from other teams. We don’t have to sit back. We can push.”
In goal, Josh Rosenzweig and Owen Flores both did as well as could be expected under the circumstances — the IceDogs were outshot in 64 of 68 regular season games.
Rosenzweig, Michaud, Cato and Anthony Agostinelli are eligible to return next season as overage players. Teams are permitted to dress three OA’s per game.
Next up will be the announcement Wednesday of the results of the OHL’s draft lottery.
The lottery will determine the order of selection for the first four picks of the first round of the draft which will take place Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22.
Non-playoff teams will be involved in this year’s lottery, one that sees the introduction of a weighted system that provides a 40 per cent opportunity for the last-place team (IceDogs) to garner the first overall selection. The three other participating teams will have adjusted proportionate odds, with the 19th place Erie Otters (30 per cent), 18th place team (20 per cent) and 17th place team (10 per cent) also vying for the top selection.
Ice cubes: Cato (upper body), Keane (broken wrist), Agostinelli (concussion), Ribau and Christopher O’Flaherty did not dress for the IceDogs . . . Ryan Mast, Owen MacDonald, Nolan Dillingham, Ethan Del Mastro, Nolan Burke and Ty Voit were scratched for Sarnia . . . Jesus, Ribau and Keane were honoured before the game . . . He and Lavoie scored Saturday in a 5-2 loss to North Bay.
Sting 10 IceDogs 4
Niagara’s Jacob LeBlanc and Sarnia’s Sasha Pastujov.
Niagara IceDogs: Jacob LeBlanc 2 (3, 4); Zakary Lavoie (29); Declan Waddick (28).
Sarnia Sting: Sasha Pastujov 2 (40, 41); Easton Wainwright 2 (12, 13); Zack Filak 2 (13, 14); Christian Kyrou (20); Sandis Vilamanis (20); Cooper Way (15); Ethan Richie (13).
Game stats: Shots on goal: By Niagara on Nicholas Surzycia (39), by Sarnia on Josh Rosenzweig (38); Power plays: Niagara 3/5, Sarnia 1/3; Penalty minutes: Niagara 8, Sarnia 12.
Next up: The 2023 OHL priority selection draft lottery Wednesday and the 2023 OHL priority selection draft Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22.
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