By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express.
After dropping two straight decisions to Belleville and Ottawa and falling out of contention for a first place Ontario Hockey League finish, the Generals returned home on Sunday to play the final game of their regular season; once again facing off with the Bulls.
It was clear head coach DJ Smith was protecting some of his key assets heading into the playoffs with Michael Dal Colle, Cole Cassels, Josh Brown, Hunter Smith, Matt Mistele, Dakota Mermis and Mitchell Vande Sompel all among the list of scratches for the final game. Kenny Appleby was also on the bench giving Jeremy Brodeur the start.
“Obviously you want to win every game you play, but the biggest thing was to be healthy,” Smith said after the game.
And win they did, 3-1, finishing the regular season on a high note.
The A-list of scratches gave the young Oshawa Generals a chance to shine.
Anthony Cirelli, voted team Rookie of the Year, Kenny Heuther, Joe Manchurek, Stephen Templeton and Daniel Robertson all saw extended ice time in the game, and despite a short lapse in the first leading to a Bulls goal to tie the game, the Gens controlled play.
Tobias Lindberg, Michael Turner and Chris Carlisle potted goals for the Gens.
Smith was pleased with the play of the young players who will make up the core of his club next season.
“They were making plays they were all skating, you can see they can play in our league. It will be the durability in the long run next year, but those guys are certainly good players and it was good to see them get all the ice time they did,” he said.
Despite his, and the team’s desire to finish first in the league, Smith said there was little disappointment in the locker room, and says he didn’t push the team as hard as he could have, like in previous seasons.
“I just felt that we were nicked up, we were tired. I feel like I could have pushed them hard if I wanted to in the last couple weeks but I just didn’t think our guys were ready to be pushed yet,” Smith said.
“At the end of the day we’re not going to be judged on our regular season, we had a great regular season, that’s great, we’re going to be judged on the playoffs.”
The Gens don’t have long to wait, lacing up the skates this Friday to take on the Peterborough Petes at the General Motors Centre for their first playoff game.
Oshawa claimed six of the eight matches against their rivals this year, which raises concerns the team could perhaps go into the series slightly over-confident. Smith says he’s not worried.
“We’re not a cocky group, we’ve worked for everything we’ve ever had, we’re not a high-flying team,” he says.
“We’re going to take every game period by period and hopefully beat these guys.”
And Smith is ready to make the push to do that.
“I’ve really laid off the gas probably for a month now and just let these guys kind of play and it’s time to up the intensity.”