After entering the year as an early-season favourite, the Niagara IceDogs haven’t disappointed, leading the OHL’s Central Division with a 20-7-5-0 record through the opening half of the campaign.
The Dogs enter the break with wins in seven of their last eight, coming off a 6-2 win over the Oshawa Generals on Saturday.
“I think 20 wins at the break is always a great milestone,” IceDogs head coach Billy Burke told Bernd Franke of the St. Catharines Standard. “It certainly was something in the back of my mind.
“Thirteen games ago we made a team goal, to try to win nine of our last 13, which would have put us to 19 wins on the season.”
The recent addition of Dallas Stars prospect Jason Robertson made an already potent offence that much more dangerous. The 19-year-old is in the midst of a 16-game point streak and has 22 points (8-14–22) through his first eight games in Niagara. He’s currently vying for a spot on the U.S. National Junior Team.
The recent emergence of 2019 NHL Draft prospect Philip Tomasino (14-18–32) has also given the team a boost. The 17-year-old has 20 points over his last 12 games while other regular contributors in Los Angeles Kings prospect Akil Thomas (11-31–42), Edmonton Oilers pick Kirill Maksimov (20-20–40), Vegas Golden Knights choice Ben Jones (16-25–41) and Minnesota Wild third rounder Ivan Lodnia (12-20–32) give the IceDogs one of the OHL’s deepest forward groups.
“I think our whole team is kind of in a groove right now,” Tomasino said following Saturday’s win over Oshawa. “Everyone has been battling really hard.
“I think over the last 10 games I’ve elevated my game, but I think that goes for the whole team. Everyone has to stick to the team plan, and doing the right thing to help the team win.”
The franchise has reached the OHL Championship Series as Eastern Conference Champions twice in the past seven years, falling on both occasions to the London Knights. The Dogs dropped a hard-fought 3-2 overtime loss in London on Friday, outshooting the Knights 40-28.
Within their own conference, Niagara has fierce competition in the East Division-leading Ottawa 67’s (25-6-3-1) while the Sudbury Wolves (21-9-1-1) have risen to the challenge of contending for the Central Division, trailing the Dogs by one point at the break. The two teams have split their season series thus far, with four meetings left on the schedule.
Upon returning from the break, the IceDogs will square off with the 67’s twice in a four-day span, paying a visit to the nation’s capital on Friday December 28th before hosting a New Year’s Eve clash between the two contenders.
On the international scene, the Dogs have a couple names joining Robertson (United States) off at World Junior Camps right now including defenceman Daniel Bukac (Czech Republic) and forward Kyen Sopa (Switzerland).
The OHL’s Eastern Conference has grown increasingly competitive in recent weeks, but with the fourth-year presence of Stephen Dhillon manning the crease behind a talented group of veterans the IceDogs are shooting for the stars in 2019, looking to bring St. Catharines its first OHL Championship since 1974.
The KIA CHL Top 10 Spotlight takes a closer look at one team from the weekly KIA CHL Top 10 Rankings.
Past KIA CHL Top 10 Spotlight editions:
Sept. 26, 2018 – Halifax Mooseheads
Oct. 4, 2018 – London Knights
Oct. 11, 2018 – Victoria Royals
Oct. 18, 2018 – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Oct. 25, 2018 – Prince Albert Raiders
Nov. 1, 2018 – Ottawa 67’s
Nov. 8, 2018 – Moncton Wildcats
Nov. 15, 2018 – Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Nov. 22, 2018 – Red Deer Rebels
Nov. 29, 2018 – Drummondville Voltigeurs
Dec. 6, 2018 – Vancouver Giants
Dec. 12, 2018 – Everett Silvertips