( Photo: OJHL Images)
Since I’ve finally been able to put a few Ontario Junior Hockey League games underneath my belt, it’s time to give praise where it’s due. The most recent game I’ve had a chance to catch was last Friday’s tilt between the Trenton Golden Hawks and Newmarket Hurricanes.
Despite the injury bug taking a bite out of the Hawks towards the end of the game, they still managed to fire shot after shot towards Hurricanes netminder, Connor Ryckman. I happened to notice that if there’s one thing the Golden Hawks do extremely well, it’s get out of their own end in a flash. No matter what the rush, at times it feels like there’s no point in back-checking for their opponents and if you can’t catch up your last line of defence is your goaltending.
And what a treat it was to watch Ryckman.
I come from years of watching the CCHL and that league does not hold a candle in terms of skill level to the OJHL. It was a bit of an eye opener for me to see the bar set high by goaltenders in this league. Ryckman, a former Barrie Colts draft pick, turned away an impressive 32 of 34 shots but what stood out the most was his aggressiveness to cut down the angle on any quick Trenton rush. As the game went through two overtimes to only end in a 2-2 tie, the goals Ryckman gave up were out of his control. This did not rattle him at all.
That’s not to take away from his goalie opposition on Friday night. Daniel Urbani who, when he’s hot, he’s smoking, currently leads the OJHL with a 929% save percentage and 1.62 goals against average. A far cry from what I’m used to in the CCHL. He picked up Goaltender of the Month honours and was also instrumental in eliminating Trenton during last season’s playoffs when he was a member of the Kingston Voyageurs. It’ll be interesting to see how deep of a playoff push he can help make with the Hawks.
One of the biggest differences in the OJHL compared to it’s Eastern Ontario counterpart is the players actually want to play physical. They attempt body checks whether they land them or not. They are not afraid to get dirty and get into the corners. That is what helps get people in the doors and spend money on your team. Of course, for Trenton, it helps when your team is currently 3rd in the country too.
Goaltending in the OJHL is a step above and is great for fans of the position. The development of every position however, keeps the OJHL remaining the “League of Choice” for many NCAA prospects.