MISSISSAUGA, Ontario — The Ontario Hockey League’s preseason tune-up is now in the rearview mirror. Never before has the OHL — or most leagues, for that matter — had to wait so long to play regular-season hockey. That is because none of the OHL teams have played a meaningful game since March 2020 when the league — and the world — were abruptly shut down due to the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic.
The wait was one of a fair amounts of fear, frustration and uncertainty, but with their regular season set to officially kick off this weekend, there is a palpable sense of hope that the wait will prove to be worthwhile. Like the rest of the OHL, the Mississauga Steelheads were not immune to the events of the past year-and-a-half. But, also like the rest of the OHL, it was, hopefully, a worthwhile wait.
After getting re-familiarized with their team during training camp and the preseason, the Steelheads are ready for a new season, and a new start, to begin. And, to kick things off, the Steelheads will open their 2021-22 campaign with their hands full: against the promising Kingston Frontenacs in K-Town.
With a roster that includes Los Angeles Kings’ star prospect Martin Chromiak and Shane Wright, the front-runner to be first-overall at next spring’s NHL Draft, the Frontenacs are not to be taken lightly. The Frontenacs are, however, looking to rebound from a less-than-stellar 2019-20 where they went 19-39-2-2 before the season was unceremoniously aborted.
As is the case with the Steelheads though, the 2021-22 campaign marks a new beginning for Kingston and few are more cognizant of this than Mississauga’s head coach James Richmond.
“We know Kingston is going to be one of the top teams we’ll face this season and facing them right off the bat will be a big test for our guys,” Richmond said earlier this week. “So, we need to be ready to compete as soon as the puck drops.”
The Steelheads bench boss continued, addressing the first-overall front-runner.
“Shane Wright is not going to be stopped,” Richmond said. “He’s an exceptional player and leader, so as a group we will need to make sure we know where he is and where his options are at all times and try to take away some of his game. We want to see our guys compete for 60 minutes. Our goal is to win the two points that are available this weekend.”
A full 60-minute game will be something that the Steelheads need to address, especially given that they went 1-6 in the preseason. That lone victory, by the way, came in the club’s preseason opener way back on Sept. 4, so the Steelheads haven’t been familiar with being in the win column as of late — and that will need to change quickly.
Frontenacs head coach Luca Caputi, a former NHLer himself, certainly has the experience of knowing what it takes to get to the next level — an advantage he can use with all of his players but especially the duo of Wright and Martin Chromiak, who developed great chemistry in 2019-20 despite their team’s overall struggles on the ice.
When asked about the duo’s chemistry and what he expects of them this season, Caputi was straightforward with his response.
“[Chromiak] has a little bit of a unique chemistry with Shane as they played together for the three months before the lockdown, and I think that’s something they can build off of as we start our journey here in 2021-22,” Caputi said. “They have played together before, so it’s not something that’s foreign territory for either one of them. They’re both eager to build off the chemistry they’d already built in 2020 before the world got shut down there for a bit. So, for us, and most importantly them, they buy into our team concepts. They will play together to start the year because they have that unique chemistry and obviously, were able to produce at the same time before we had the stoppage.”
Caputi continued discussing the importance of the pair and how it will impact the team moving forward.
“I just think that for our culture and where we want to go as a club, they both fit the mold perfectly,” the Kingston coach said. “They both are invested in what we want to do as a team. The personal gains are secondary to them, which I believe is huge. They’re team-first guys and we talk about that a lot. The sky’s the limit for the both of them personally and I think they’re going to help our team just as much as they gain personally.”
For the Kingston Frontenacs, who begin their season on Friday against the Ottawa 67’s, it’s a fresh new start. The same goes for the Mississauga Steelheads as this weekend will mark the ideal steppingstone to what will be a fun and interesting OHL season.
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