Christian Thomas (27) seen here in a file photo, has been ripping up the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with his monster scoring touch and he will unquestionably be a key component when the Oshawa Generals enter post-season play.
By Wally Donaldson/The Oshawa Express
You have as a junior hockey player three, maybe four years to find your niche as a professional athlete. It is during this time when pro scouts place you under a microscope and determine if you carry the cloth to pull a National Hockey League (NHL) jersey over your head.
And although the Generals had not been able to ice a playoff squad these past couple of seasons, they did boast some raw talent from John Tavares and Michael Del Zotto to even Brett Parnham, who had a firm grasp as to the location of the back of a net.
This season is different. Much different. The trades that had clicked in, bringing in the likes of Christian Thomas and Scott Valentine, the shoring up between the pipes upon the arrival of Peter Di Salvo and the grooming of top-shelf talents such as defenceman Calvin de Haan and forward Andy Andreoff has changed the appearance of this organization from the future to now.
The focal point during the early stages was, of course, to qualify for a playoff berth and end this misery of watching from the sidelines. Today, the Generals are battling for first place in Eastern Conference and are knocking on the door of the Ottawa 67’s.
I like coach Chris DePiero’s take on the plight of his squad. “We are 24 guys who care about each other and are battling hard every game,” he has been quoted.
In other words, whether they do assume top position or not, the young charges are giving it their very best.
This is all a coach can request.
Oshawa’s hot pursuit for first sets the table for the post season. They have been in a playoff race for quite some time, especially following the festive season where they have evolved as quality personified. This intensity can only set the tone once the playoff curtain is raised.
Generals have been ripping it up of late, having most recently squeezed out a 6-5 verdict over the Frontenacs at the K-Rock Centre in Kingston before 2,837 fans and scored a 4-3 shootout decision at the Peterborough Memorial Centre against the Petes before 3,583 spectators.
Indeed, not only have the Generals scored success at the GM Centre this season, they have also made noise on the road and other clubs within the Ontario hockey league (OHL) cannot help but sit up and notice.
This team, not capable of qualifying for the playoffs the last two seasons, currently provides the necessary armour from goal out to not only bid for an OHL title, but perhaps score a Memorial Cup title, an accomplishment experienced by Eric Lindros and company 21 years ago at Copp’s Coliseum in Hamilton.
Looking a bit too far ahead, I suppose. But the coaches in the OHL’s Eastern Conference are fully aware of the Generals potential, based on a recent coaching poll where four Oshawa players were recognized among the cream of the crop.
Thomas, who rang up his fifth career hat trick at Kingston to eventually succeed the scoring prowess of his father, Steve, during his tenure with the Toronto Marlies, was listed in three categories.
The Toronto talent aced two categories as the best shot, ahead of Ottawa's Tyler Toffoli and Justin Shagg of the Majors. He was also selected the most dangerous in the goal crease area, ahead of Toffoli and Andrew Agozzino of the IceDogs. He placed second with the hardest shot behind Kingston's Erik Gudbranson. Sudbury's Marcus Foligno finished third in this category.
Pickering's Andy Andreoff took the most underrated award, very deservedly so, we should add. He did place third as the most improved player behind Niagara's Ryan Strome and Shane Prince of the 67's.
Blueliner Calvin de Haan took second spot as the best offensive defenceman. Dougie Hamilton of Brampton took this category with Sudbury's Josh McFadden placing third.
De Haan also placed third as the best skater behind Hamilton and Kingston's Ryan Spooner.
Defenceman Scott Valentine placed third in the best body checker category, behind Foligno and Mississauga's Brett Flemming.
Generals are looking very good at this stage of the game and it really will be interesting to see just how far they can go once the fun really begins.
WALLY WORLD – Generals were five-for-nine on the powerplay against the Fronts. Along with Thomas' three-goal night, de Haan scored a five-point night including two goals with the other tally from Lucas Lessio…Thomas continued his splendid performance one night later in Peterborough with a two-goal performance. Scott Laughton added the other in regulation play. Valentine did notch the shootout winner. Generals are on the road in a huge game against the 67's in Ottawa on Friday night. They close out the regular schedule at the GM Centre on Saturday against the Brampton Battalion and Sunday to the Petes.