EVERETT — Most major-junior hockey teams spend the preseason traveling as little as possible. The regular season offers more than enough opportunity to spend time on the bus, so exhibition opponents tend to be selected primarily with geography in mind.
The Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds usually follow that script themselves. As the league’s most remote outpost, Sault Ste. Marie annually fills its preseason schedule with contests against nearest neighbors Sudbury and Saginaw.
But this year the Greyhounds decided to eschew convention in favor of something on a much grander scale.
Sault Ste. Marie is venturing not just beyond its normal preseason range, but beyond its league boundaries entirely as the Greyhounds will be the guests of honor at this weekend’s Holiday Inn Preseason Classic at Comcast Arena.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” Greyhounds general manager Dave Torrie said Wednesday via phone from Sault Ste. Marie. “It a rare occasion for an Ontario team to travel out and play three western-based teams. I think it’s a great opportunity that’s been presented us.”
Each year the Everett Silvertips host their preseason tournament, which usually includes the WHL’s five U.S. Division teams, plus one other WHL squad. But this year the Tips decided to get creative, issuing an invitation to the Greyhounds.
Sault Ste. Marie, better known as the Soo, accepted, making the 1,700-mile trek to Everett to play exhibition games against Everett, Portland and Tri-City. It’s the first time a team from one of the other major-junior leagues (the OHL and the QMJHL) will grace the ice at Comcast Arena.
Exhibition crossovers between leagues are a rare occurrence. Torrie said he knew about past exhibitions played between OHL and QMJHL teams, but never between OHL and WHL teams. No exhibitions between WHL and OHL or QMJHL teams have taken place since Everett began play in 2003.
“We’re happy they came out,” said Everett coach Craig Hartsburg, who coached the Greyhounds from 2001-02 and 2004-08 and played a key role in bringing them to Everett. “It’s a great experience for them and they’ve got good people involved with the team. It’ll be good for the fans to see a different team. I expect them to come out with a great deal of pride in their organization, so they’ll play well.”
Sault Ste. Marie had a long journey to reach Everett on Thursday. The Greyhounds departed at 6 a.m. Eastern time, bussing six hours to Detroit where they hopped on a plane to Seattle. They arrived in Everett at about 8 p.m. Pacific time, meaning 17 hours on the road.
But the long trip was well worth it in Torrie’s mind.
“The big thing for us is it gives us three games to evaluate players before they leave for NHL camps,” Torrie said. “Then there’s the experience and the team bonding. The players are very excited to make the trip, and the opportunity to build chemistry at the beginning of the season like this is huge. Plus we get to see what the western-based teams are like.”
Sault Ste. Marie arrived with what is expected to be a solid team. Last season with a young squad the Greyhounds finished 36-27-1-4, good for fifth place in the OHL’s Western Conference. They fell 4-1 to the Plymouth Whalers in the first round of the playoffs.
Sault Ste. Marie brought what is essentially its final roster to Everett, bringing just 24 players. The Greyhounds’ top performers are still youngsters. Eighteen-year-old defensemen Brock Beukeboom (third round, Tampa Bay) and Brandon Archibald (fourth round, Columbus) were selected in this year’s NHL draft. Seventeen-year-old forwards Daniel Catenacci, who was the first-overall selection in the OHL’s 2009 priority draft, and Nick Cousins are both on the NHL’s radar for next year’s draft.
The Greyhounds also have three players remaining from Hartsburg’s last season as head coach in the Soo: 20-year-old forward Jake Carrick, 20-year-old defenseman Dylan King and 19-year-old goaltender Bryce O’Hagan. Head coach Denny Lambert served as an assistant under Hartsburg.
Tips sign Chynoweth
The Tips announced Thursday they signed Ryan Chynoweth, their top pick in this year’s bantam draft, to a WHL education contract. The signing commits Chynoweth’s future to the team.
Chynoweth, a 15-year-old center, was selected in the second round, 24th overall, in April’s draft. He was one of the top performers during this year’s rookie scrimmages, finishing second in scoring with 10 points in six games.
As a 15-year-old Chynoweth is ineligible to make Everett’s roster this season. The signing makes him eligible to play in this weekend’s exhibition games, however he is not expected to take part.
Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog: http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog