The new season of Minor Midget hockey officially, to an extent, gets started later today with the beginning of the Toronto Titans Early Bird tournament. The tournament, which features 52 teams from across Ontario and the US, is a great first look at some of the top teams and players at the age group. It should be noted that the results from this tournament don’t always signify how the season will play out. One only has to go back to see that Windsor went 1-3 last year at this tournament and then went on to advance and compete at the OHL Cup.
For the Alliance this year, 11 of the 12 teams in the league will be competing at the tournament. The lone team not attending are the Kitchener Jr. Rangers. With 11 teams and just 10 divisions in the tournament, Chatham-Kent and Elgin-Middlesex end up in the same division but the rest of the Alliance is separated and will only meet in elimination play. There are some teams that are contenders to win this tournament while other teams have some difficult matchups coming up. Here’s a look at each team and where they stack up against the competition.
Sun County Panthers:
The Panthers roll into the tournament following a disappointing 0-3 weekend in Waterloo during the exhibition tournament. The Panthers played strong defensively, but were unable to break out on the offensive side of things. The offense will need to show up this week as the Panthers are in tough in their division. Matchups against Oakville and Clarington are tough, but having both the Don Mills Flyers and the Mississauga Rebels in your division is cause for concern. Look for Aidan Pitre to steal the show and open some eyes this week.
London Jr. Knights:
Many are touting the Jr. Knights as possibly being one of the top teams in the province this season. The Titans tournament will be the first chance London has to showcase their talent. The Jr. Knights, as per usual, did not compete in any exhibition games and this will be the first chance fans have to see London in game action. It won’t be easy as London is in a tough division. The Kingston Jr. Frontenacs, Toronto Red Wings and Chicago Mission are all solid clubs that will test London. With the news that London has added two new forwards in Levi Siau and Brett Budgell, they will be two names to keep an eye on especially Budgell. It will be a huge statement for London should they go deep in the tournament.
The Lakers have gotten off to a winless start to their exhibition season losing back-to-back games to the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs. Huron-Perth is hoping to have more success this season in big tournaments as opposed to last season when they struggled with injuries. The division the Lakers have is tough with solid clubs like Southern Tier and Honeybaked all set to battle the Lakers. The one team to watch is the Toronto Marlboros. The OHL Cup finalist from a year ago boasts two top OHL prospects in Graeme Clark and Jack Hughes. The Marlboros are pegged for a big year so a win by Huron-Perth against them would be a huge feather in their cap.
The 99ers have been going hard during a long training camp to prepare for this tournament. No exhibition games, but lots of practices to get Pete Crosby’s system down pat for when they begin tournament play on Thursday. Situated in division four, Brantford will not face any top tier clubs but they will play teams that have a history of deep teams. The Quinte Red Devils are known around the province for putting together rock solid teams which will make them a tough test. It will also be interested to see the 99ers take on the Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs, with former 99ers Ben Hipkin and Riley Pinkney taking the ice against their former teammates.
The Cyclones will get their first taste of action at the Titans tournament following a disappointing bantam season. The Cyclones will see some familiar faces in their division, with division five holding two Alliance squads, Elgin-Middlesex being the other. The Chiefs held a 2-1 record over the Cyclones last season. In tough also against the top rated Whitby Wildcats and host Toronto Titans, Chatham-Kent may be in tough, but I could still see them put up a respectable showing.
As stated earlier, the Chiefs will take part in division play with Chatham-Kent. The Chiefs got off to a great start in exhibition play, taking two from the Huron-Perth Lakers. The Chiefs are normally a contender at these big tournaments and this year should be no different. The Titans and Compuware should be very solid tests for this Chatham team. Whitby, as I said above, is one of the higher rated clubs in minor midget this year. Look for a familiar name on the blue line as TSN analyst Darren Dregar’s son Mason is a defenceman for the Wildcats.
Windsor Jr. Spitfires
A dark horse team to make some noise out of the Alliance in this tournament is the Windsor Jr. Spitfires. Maybe being overlooked because of how their bantam season ended, Windsor will look to have better results than they did at this tournament one year ago. Windsor already has a win under their belt, a 5-3 decision over Chatham-Kent. Their competition is solid, but not overwhelming. Look for the Mississauga Reps and Niagara North Stars to be tough tests, but I could see Windsor taking this division and making a run through the quarter-finals.
Hamilton has a very tough beginning to their tournament, having to take on the always talented Toronto Jr. Canadiens right out of the gate. Luckily, the Huskies have had some game action already, taking down the Niagara North Stars 3-2 early last week. I won’t call it the “group of death” but Hamilton is surrounded by experienced clubs. Look for Barrie and Central Ontario to also give the Huskies strong tests. Hamilton will need the offence to play at their peak should they hope to see some game time on Saturday evening.
Lambton Jr. Sting
The team I called the most intriguing in the Alliance this season, Lambton would be the team that I would classify as the team that is in the “group of death”. Not only are the defending OHL Cup champion York-Simcoe Express scheduled to play the Jr. Sting, but teams like the Mississauga Senators and Markham Majors are also in the division, both teams that regularly are featured in the OHL Cup rankings. It’s really hard to tell what to expect from a team that I haven’t seen play together, even a select group once. Just remember, don’t put too much stock in the results, win or lose.
Waterloo was a mainstay for the Alliance in big tournaments, always providing the best results. That is, with the exception of last year’s Titans tournament. The Wolves went 1-3 in round robin play last year and only scored four goals in their four games. See what I mean when I say don’t panic over results this weekend? The 2001 Wolves got plenty of game action in playing a league high five exhibition games, compiling a record of 3-2. Those two losses were both by one goal, to an older Oakland Jr. Grizzlies team and the always dangerous Toronto Marlboros. Waterloo should be in a good spot in division nine, the toughest test being the Sudbury Wolves from up north. I do expect to see Waterloo in action on Saturday night at a minimum.
The first team from the Alliance to get into game action, Cambridge will look to build on last season’s success in Toronto. The Hawks got in two exhibition games before the tournament, but played fairly shorthanded so the results weren’t as expected. Some Hawks players have gotten in some action with the Jr. B Winterhawks, including Ryan Campbell, Jagger O’Toole and goaltender Jet Greaves. Cambridge will need big performances for those players and more in a division that is really up in the air for the taking. Markham Waxers, North York Rangers and Belle Tire are all solid teams that could squeeze out a win. While it is tight, I do expect the Hawks to come out on top, ultimately making it four Alliance teams advancing out of the preliminary round.