As the IceDogs enter the month of October, the team is beginning to come together. After missing nine players to NHL camps during the preseason and six of those players missing the regular season opener in Peterborough, there is now only one player still missing at professional camp.
The IceDogs came down to one player still missing in camp when Vancouver Canucks draft pick, Alex Friesen was returned to Niagara from Chicago Wolves training camp just prior to last night’s game versus London. Friesen is now back in town and should be in the lineup tonight as the IceDogs travel to Sudbury to take on the Wolves. As a valuable two way forward, alternate captain and key leader, the IceDogs will certainly be thrilled to have him back.
While the experience of the NHL camps is a big part in helping the development of the players and certainly helps the team in the long run, it has caused a difficult start to the season, with the preseason number two ranked IceDogs starting the season 2-3.
Despite a somewhat slow start, the season has already seen the team make serious strides since players started returning, with the team having won two straight prior to last nights contest vs. London, where the team was missing starting goaltender Mark Visentin who was out with an injury. The addition of Friesen should help continue the trend of improved play.
In the IceDogs two wins the play of returning players played a key role and the team has looked better each game with the NHL picks returning and starting to find a comfort level with their teammates.
All of the skaters who have played since returning from camp have made an impact with all five having multiple points and three of the five averaging at least a point a game. Freddie Hamilton (3G, 4A) and Steven Shipley (2G, 5A) are tied for the team leads the team in points with seven, Dougie Hamilton is third on the team with five points (1G, 4A), while David Pacan leads the team with four goals and Mitchell Theoret has a pair of assists. That type of continued production will go a long way in helping the IceDogs realize their goals this season.
While the addition of those five players has been key, the addition of Friesen and a couple of other key pieces who are missing from the lineup will help take the team to the next level.
The first issue for the IceDogs has been Brock Beukeboom, who is back with the team, but is suffering from an injury and has been unable to play so far since. A big addition in the off season, the return of Beukeboom to the lineup will be key to solidifying a young IceDogs blueline, helping alleviate some of the pressure off of Dougie Hamilton, the IceDogs other NHL drafted defenceman. Once back in the lineup, the former Sault Ste Marie captain should help add both offence and defence on the back end.
Also, on the injury front, goaltender Mark Visentin is back and has played for the IceDogs since his return from Phoenix, but was injured early in his second game back and is currently out of the lineup. While the IceDogs backups Jaroslav Pavelka, and Mike Gallardi are doing their best to hold down the fort, they cannot be expected to fill the shoes of the OHL’s reigning goaltender of the year, especially with their limited OHL experience. As a result, Visentin’s return from injury will provide yet another solid boost for the squad.
While the IceDogs work to help get Beukeboom and Visentin healthy and back in the lineup, the only player they are stilling waiting on word on is their leading scorer from a year ago, New York Islanders draft pick, Ryan Strome.
The IceDogs have gotten some more information this week, as Strome signed an entry level deal with the New York Islanders after being selected 5th overall in this past June’s NHL Draft. The signing came just prior to Tuesday’s 5pm deadline, when the Islanders would have had to send Strome back to the IceDogs had he not signed. The signing means Strome will start the season in the NHL, but the reports out of Long Island indicate that Strome will likely return to the IceDogs once the Islanders, who are short five players currently on injured reserve, get back some of their injured players. However anything can happen and the IceDogs and their fans will certainly be keeping a close eye on the situation.
So, while Niagara sits at 2-3 through their first five games, things are starting to come together for the IceDogs, whose play has seen some real positive steps already this season. With eight of their nine picks back in town and a real possibility of all nine returning, watch out for the IceDogs once they return to health and are able to finally ice their complete lineup.