By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The Oshawa Generals cleaned out their lockers this past weekend after being eliminated from the OHL playoffs by the Niagara IceDogs.
After the Gens won 6-2 at home on March 26, Niagara bounced back with two straight 5-2 victories, including the series clincher on Saturday, March 31.
After a scoreless first period, Niagara jumped to a 2-0 lead in the second before Kyle MacLean scored his third of the playoffs at 15:11 of the second.
Jack Studnicka and Sean Allen grabbed the assists.
Less than two minutes later, Niagara’s Oliver Castleman regained his team’s two-goal lead.
Five minutes into the third, Kenny Huether got the Gens back within one goal; but the IceDogs added two more to walk away with the win and advance to the next round.
On Thursday, May 28, the Gens took a 2-1 lead into the locker room after the first period on the strength of tallies by Brendon Harrogate and Domenico Commisso.
The second and third; however, were all Niagara, as the IceDogs outscored the home team 4-0 while also outshooting them 30 to 19.
The Gens were outscored 20-7 in their four losses in the series.
General Manager Roger Hunt says it’s obviously disappointing for the team to be out of the playoff picture so quickly.
“Our goal was certainly to go beyond the first round,” Hunt told The Oshawa Express. “Take no credit away from Niagara. They were good all year.”
Hunt noted after falling down 3-1 in the series, the Generals were really backed up against a wall.
“When you get down 3-0 or 3-1, you’ve dug yourselves a pretty big hole.”
To him, Oshawa lost the “special teams battle,” which played a large role in the how the series played out.
Over the five games, the Gens were 3-27 (11 per cent) on the powerplay, while the IceDogs were 7-23 (30 per cent).
However, Niagara’s seven power play goals came in only two games, Game 2 and Game 5 of the series.
Even with the quick exit from the playoffs, there are quite a few positives to take from the 2017-18 season.
Hunt praised Kyle Keyser, who stepped into the starting goalie role this year.
“He was arguably our MVP and certainly bailed us out at times,” he says.
For Hunt, the fact Keyser is only 18 makes his performance even more impressive.
There is a possibility that captain and team leader Jack Studnicka could become a member of the Boston Bruins roster next season.
If that scenario unfolds, Hunt believes they have a solid group that could fill the potential void, pointing to Matt Brassard and Kyle McLean as examples.
Defenseman Mitchell Brewer is a player Hunt expects to jump to a new level of play next season.
Noting that defense is the “second-toughest” position for a 16-year-old in the OHL besides goalie, Hunt says Brewer was up to the task.
“When you look at the minutes he played and who he played against, it speaks volumes about how his season went,” he explains.
Rookie left winger Nick Wong scored 17 goals this season.
To Hunt, this puts the 16-year-old “in pretty lofty company.”
“The challenge is always for them to come back better,” he adds.
The Gens faced a huge drawback this year when coach Bob Jones was unable to take his spot on the bench due to health reasons.
Hunt says he feels Greg Nemisz and Nathan McIver handled their increased responsibilities formidably.
“I think they did a great job. It’s hard to go from an assistant to a head coach.”
It remains to be seen if Jones will return next year.
“He does have one more health hurdle that he has to cross,” Hunt says. “I suspect he’s going to take some time to see where he’s at.”
With the season wrapped up, the team’s attention now turns to the OHL Draft to be held on April 7 in which the Gens have the 11th overall pick.
The team brass will be scouting until they are on the clock, Hunt says.
“It’s an exciting time and the perfect remedy for feeling crummy [after the playoff loss],” he added.
Hunt thanked Gens Nation for their support this year and says they will do “do everything in our power” to make sure next season has a more successful outcome.