By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
For many Oshawa Generals, making the playoffs would not only mean an extended season, but could give them their first taste of Ontario Hockey League (OHL) post-season action.
Less than half of Oshawa’s 24-man roster have played in OHL playoffs in previous seasons, a byproduct of the Gens being one of the younger teams in the league with an average age of 18.
The youth and the learning curve that comes along with it are something head coach Bob Jones has repeated throughout the 2015-16 season.
“We’re all learning together here,” he says. “It’s a young group.”
The players with the most post-season experience are obviously those remaining players who were part of Oshawa’s Memorial Cup winning club last year.
Mitch Vande Sompel, Joe Manchurek and Sam Harding each played a significant role last season and also saw some post season action in the 2014/15 season. Captain Anthony Cirelli saw his first post-season last year and fans will know how that turned out.
Kenny Heuther, Stephen Templeton and Jeremy Brodeur also saw limited post-season games last season.
Of Oshawa’s additions, Owen McDade, Alex Renaud and goaltender Justin Nichols have all seen some action in past post-season games.
Despite their age, Oshawa has kept up with many of the league’s top teams, their recent 5-0 tromping of the Kitchener Rangers, one of Canada’s top junior teams, being a case in point. However, for the most part, the club’s energy has only lasted two periods, an effort that usually brings them close, but sees them coming up short.
So far this season, Oshawa has had 23 games decided by a single goal, 13 of which have been losses.
“It’s just not enough experience at crucial times,” Jones said.
Currently, the Generals (24-30-4-4) sit with 56 points, two points up on the Hamilton Bulldogs (23-33-8-0) for the final playoff spot with six games remaining in the regular season.
Jones says that a playoff berth for his club and an organization looking to rebuild would be valuable experience for the coming years.
“I think it’s huge,” he says. “You’re playing a lot of crucial games and you’re playing for something every night.”
Jones himself is no stranger to the post-season. In nearly two decades of coaching in the OHL, he has only missed the post-season once. He also has a pair of Memorial Cup championships under his belt from his time with the Windsor Spitfires.
Gauging the importance of a playoff game, Jones says each post-season game is worth 10 regular season games.
“That’s how much it’s magnified, and that would be a great experience for our kids to get in the playoffs and get a taste of that as well,” he says.
Most recently, Oshawa pulled out a big win over the Mississauga Steelheads, defeating them on the road 4-2, extending the Gens’ winning streak to three games.
Regardless of the outcome, Jones says his team is already gaining valuable experience.
“We’re playing playoff hockey right now, and it’s a real experience for these kids to win games like they are.”
Oshawa is back in action tonight (March 9) when they take on the top-ranked Kingston Frontenacs, who currently lead the Eastern Conference with 90 points. Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m. at the General Motors Centre.
Following that, Oshawa remains at home for games on March 11 against the North Bay Battalion and March 13 against the Peterborough Petes.