For the Niagara IceDogs, it’s Halifax or bust.
Among the Ontario Hockey League’s contenders, the IceDogs made some major moves to bolster what was a solid roster in the fall and the moves were made to fill needs, not just to add the best players.
When the players you add fill needs and come in as elite players, it certainly makes things a lot easier.
For the IceDogs though, injuries have meant the team hasn’t played with a healthy roster much this season.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Niagara Coach Billy Burke said. “We’ve only played six games with a healthy roster. We’ve gone through a ton of injuries to top guys who have been out for an extended period of time. We’ve certainly been able to handle adversity well.”
With a player like Minnesota Wild prospect Ivan Lodnia out for an extended period — the veteran forward hasn’t played since Dec. 15 — it’s given other players a chance to step into a larger role.
One such player is 2019 draft-eligible forward Philip Tomasino.
“He came back in excellent shape and really transformed himself into a man,” Burke said. “Akil Thomas got hurt in November and we move (Tomasino) into his spot and he just exploded. He was playing with Lodnia and they had some great chemistry. His confidence continues to grow. He’s a guy who needed to get some confidence. Pucks needed to start going in for him. He has electric speed and excellent hands. He’s turned into the player we thought he would be.”
Burke said Lodnia, who was acquired from the Erie Otters in August, has been a welcome addition to the IceDogs roster.
“He’s very smart and a 200-foot guy,” Burke said. “He’s not the flashiest goal scorer but he’s a reliable player.
“When he got hurt before Christmas, he was playing the best he’s been playing all year for us,” Burke added.
The injury situation looks to be getting better for the IceDogs though.
Jacob Paquette, a Nashville prospect acquired along with Jason Robertson from the Kingston Frontenacs, missed time over the weekend but could return to the lineup this week while Lodnia is two to three weeks away from returning.
The additions of Paquette and Robertson in November saw the team pay a price for two players who have added key elements to the roster.
“Right from day one, it’s felt like they’ve been here for years,” Burke said. “They’re well-respected in the locker room and they’re very respectful guys.”
For Robertson, the Dallas Stars prospect stepped right into the lineup and his offensive production didn’t miss a beat.
“J-Rob is a game-breaker,” Burke said. “He’s a guy who is going to have a long NHL career.”
For Paquette, the dependable blueliner has been a solid addition as well and been relied upon for a solid all-around game.
“Sometimes Paquette doesn’t quite get the fanfare,” Burke said of the veteran defender. “He’s probably our most complete defenceman.”
Prior to the OHL trade deadline, the IceDogs added two players that filled needs along with having a major impact on one of the Eastern Conference’s top clubs in Boston Bruins prospect Jack Studnicka and Vancouver Canucks prospect Matt Brassard.
“Brassard and Studnicka were guys that we talked about in the summer time and thought ‘Wouldn’t it be great if (Oshawa) moved them?’” Burke said. “(Studnicka) is a guy who can play in all situations. He’s an excellent faceoff guy with high compete. He’s a really well-balanced player.
“And Brassard, we didn’t have a right-shot offensive ability, so they filled two needs,” Burke added.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Rimouski Oceanic have won 11 straight games.
It would be easy to think that they’re the hottest team in the Canadian Hockey League of late, but the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies have something to say about that.
The team has taken a 13-point lead atop the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Western Conference thanks to a 17-game winning streak.
New York Islanders prospect Noah Dobson was acquired by the Huskies from the defending-champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan on Jan. 6 and the smooth-skating defenceman has been solid since the deal.
In 15 games with the Huskies, Dobson has 19 assists since the deal from the rebuilding Titan.
BACK IN THE SADDLE
Drummondville Voltigeurs forward, and Anaheim Ducks prospect, Maxime Comtois has settled in since returning from a separated shoulder at the World Juniors.
The veteran forward, acquired last summer from the Victoriaville Tigres, returned to the Drummondville lineup on Jan. 25 and has six goals in seven games since returning to the lineup.
That includes a three-goal, five-point performance in his second game back, a Drummondville win over the Val-d’Or Foreurs.
THAT’S A LOT OF WINS
Marc Habscheid has spent a lot of time around the Western Hockey League over the years, both as a player and a coach.
As a coach, Habscheid did something this week that only seven other coaches have done.
As the Prince Albert Raiders picked up a 6-5 win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes over the weekend, Habscheid won his 500th game.
Don Hay is the league’s all-time leader in wins by a coach with 750.
Habscheid will also hit another milestone this year as he sits five games away from 1,000 as a head coach in the league.