By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
With the season over and the Generals entering their break, general manager and vice-president Roger Hunt feels good.
The team finished the season with a 44-20-4-0 record, which was good enough for second in the East Division and third in the Eastern Conference.
The only two teams to finish with better records than the Gens in the Eastern Conference were the Ottawa 67’s and the Niagara IceDogs.
One of the highs for Hunt during the 2018-19 season was taking on the IceDogs in the second round of the playoffs.
“That seemed to be the most emotional series that we did,” he explains. “Anytime you have success in the playoffs it’s good, and to beat your biggest rival in the first round is good, but the Niagara series seemed to have something extra for these players. It seemed to be a little personal.”
Entering the playoffs the Generals made quick work of the rival Peterborough Petes, winning the series 4-1, but they hit a roadblock against Niagara in the next round, losing the first two games on the road.
However, when the Generals came home they stormed back to win four straight and beat former captain Jack Studnicka and the IceDogs 4-2.
“We’ve played Niagara a lot in the playoffs over the past number of years, so it always has that little extra, and being a team we only play twice a year, it’s almost a strange thing that you’ve got that rivalry, but playoff history dictates that, so it was a great feeling,” he says.
Midway through the season at the trade deadline, Studnicka and long time General Matt Brassard were traded to Niagara, and for Hunt it was difficult to deal his captain.
“I’m very conscious of the history of the organization and being a captain is something I take very serious, but it was something we had to do partially because to make the deal it was big that Niagara wanted those two guys, so it kind of took two to tango there,” says Hunt.
While trading Studnicka and Brassard was difficult, Hunt says he sleeps well at night because he knew he did the right thing for the team.
One trade stood out for the Gens, as Anthony Salintitri scored 48 goals in the 2018-19 season. Prior to this season, Salinitri had never scored more than 28 goals.
“You’ve got a new lease on life, a new team, a new coach, a new voice, new teammates, and [Salinitri] just took off,” says Hunt.
Along with Salinitri, Hunt and the Generals acquired Brandon Saigeon, Brett Neumann and Nicolas Mattinen, and Hunt says they brought something the team had been lacking.
“I think what we were missing, and what we were lacking in the group that we had together for a few years is we just didn’t have playoff experience,” explains Hunt. “The guys like Kyle MacLean and [Kyle] Keyser, they’re the 99’s on our team this year. That group had only won seven playoff games in three years, and obviously we won more playoff games this year than we did in the previous three years together.”
Ultimately the Generals hit a wall when they took on the Ottawa 67’s in the Eastern Conference final and were swept.
“There probably wasn’t a dry eye in the dressing room when we got beat, and that’s the way it should be after putting that much work into it,” says Hunt.
While they didn’t win it all as Hunt would have wanted, he had to think hard about the lows he and the team experienced this past season.
“I think we only lost six games between January 10 and the end of the year, and we lost three of them in one weekend,” explains Hunt. “I think it was a bit of a learning experience. I’m not sure if there were many lows.”
He notes while that may have been a low for the team, it could also have been the turning point for them.
Hunt says there is no better feeling in the world than winning.
“That’s why these guys lift weights, that’s why they have trainers, that’s why we have all the amenities here to try and give players every opportunity to win because that’s what it’s all about. At the end of the day… there’s one trophy. There’s one Stanley Cup, there’s one Memorial Cup, 60 teams are fighting for it…it’s not easy to win, and until you’ve got a taste of winning, you don’t know what it’s like, and once you do get that taste in your mouth, you don’t ever want to do anything but win,” says Hunt.
Hunt says there is much to look forward to as the team gets younger and attempts to fill the spots left by overagers like Keyser in net, and Salinitri, Saigeon and Mattinen.