CHL Notebook: Time with Devils served McLeod well


Mississauga Steelheads captain Michael McLeod (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

If there is a positive spin to put on an injury, rehabbing his knee helped Mike McLeod gain valuable perspective on what a hockey player really goes through.

The Mississauga Steelheads captain played his first OHL games of the season last week after being returned to junior by the New Jersey Devils. Staying with the Devils to skate and rebuild strength and range of motion in his knee – which needed a torn meniscus repaired after an NHL exhibition game on Sept. 25 – meant McLeod was with the Devils’ injured players. That group included Brian Boyle while he was getting back.

“You can get pretty down when you’re injured,” McLeod said on Sunday, after his two-point effort helped lead the surging Steelheads to a 3-1 home win against the Niagara IceDogs. “But I was skating in New Jersey for about a month with (Travis) Zajac, (Brian) Boyle, (Kyle) Palmieri. They helped me a lot with getting through. It’s not cool being injured but it’s nice being there with top-end guys like that.

“I was probably skating with Boyle for about two weeks and it definitely rubbed off on me,” the 19-year-old McLeod added. “He was always so positive. With how nice he is and how positive he is with what he’s going through just shows the kind of guy he is. Being around him makes you want to be better – better guy, better teammate, better player.”

McLeod, meantime, has rejoined a Steelheads team that is following a similar arc to last season. Mississauga had a glacial start last season before catching a wave that did not crest until the OHL final. After Sunday’s win, their eighth in 10 games, the Steelheads (.523 point pct., sixth in the OHL Eastern Conference) appear to be closer to the form they showed during their 2016-17 run. The surge also began before McLeod’s linemate Owen Tippett (FLA) returned from his extended NHL stay. Naturally, their line with the second McLeod, 18-year-old brother Ryan, clicked for the winning goal in Mike McLeod’s first game back last Friday.

“It was pretty much just about getting my timing back,” he said. “I was pretty nervous Friday, I hadn’t played in two months.

“It was bad timing to get injured in camp, but being back in junior to develop isn’t the worst thing. It means nine more months to prepare for the next camp.”

No ill effects for Hart

Suffice to say, Carter Hart (PHI), Team Canada’s incumbent goalie for the world juniors, put a case of mononucleosis behind him rather quickly.
The Everett Silvertips standout, who was part of Canada’s silver medal-earning squad at the 2017 WJC, missed all of October after contracting the illness. Counting his turn with Team WHL in the CIBC Canada Russia Series, the 19-year-old Hart has played eight games and posted a 1.24 goals-against average and .959 save percentage while seeing 30.3 shots per game. That small sample also includes Hart posting a regular-season career-best 48-save night against the MasterCard Memorial Cup-host Regina Pats. The ’Tips penalty kill also finished last week off on a 29-of-30 run, taking over the WHL lead at 86.6 per cent.

The goaltending question always looms largest with Canada ahead of the WJC, since it is universally acknowledged there have been systemic issues with developing netminders. With Hart back at 100 per cent, the prospectus in goal might be as bright as it’s been in a decade.

Abramov lands in Victoriaville

The week ahead will be a litmus test of how much stronger the Victoriaville Tigres are after winning the Vitalii Abramov sweepstakes. Victoriaville landed Abramov (CLB), the reigning QMJHL scoring leader, last Thursday in a deal with the Gatineau Olympiques by anteing four draft picks spread across the next three drafts.

Last weekend, with a reduced Q schedule due to the CIBC Canada Russia Series, was a soft launch for the new-look Tigres. Abramov assisted on both goals during a 2-0 Tigres win against the Rimouski Océanic on Sunday. Victoriaville (.523 point pct., 11th overall in the QMJHL) will be far busier this week with four games, including tilts against Rouyn-Noranda, Val-d’Or and Quebec, who are three of the top five teams in the standings.

For Gatineau, which might make a second trade with Victoriaville that involves players before next season, the deal was made entirely in the service of the 2020-21 season. It is expected that Gatineau will have a new arena by that point, and owner/hockey operations director Alain Sear is targeting that season for the franchise’s next run at the President’s Cup.

Andlauer talks arena in Hamilton

Speaking of arena construction, Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer has gone on record as saying he would foot half the cost of an OHL-appropriate venue in the southern Ontario city.

“I don’t want to dictate (location of a new building),” Andlauer told Hamilton radio station AM900 CHML last week. “I don’t know any better than the city councillors … You have got to do something. You just can’t keep the status quo. It just doesn’t work in Hamilton.”

The Bulldogs have earned high praise for the hockey operation; with the brain trust of GM Steve Staios and coach John Gruden, they were rated as one of the OHL’s top organizations in an industry survey The Hockey News conducted at the outset of the season. In the stands, though, the third-year OHL operation is drawing an average crowd of 3,772 (according to at 32-year-old FirstOntario Centre (né Copps Coliseum), which was designed to attact a NHL team that never arrived.

Perception is reality. While the Bulldogs are pulling out every stop to put down roots in Hamilton, which went a quarter-century without the OHL, drawing fans to an arena that seems cavernous is a fault line. Most consumers want to be in a place that feels vibrant; few people wish to dine at an empty restaurant.

Canadian NHL Team Prospect of the Week: Glenn Gawdin, C, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

Persistence paid off for the 20-year-old Broncos captain late last week when Gawdin signed his NHL entry-level deal with the Calgary Flames. Gawdin made it to Calgary’s main camp in the fall and has followed that up by being the fulcrum of perhaps the best line in all of major junior, ranking No. 3 in WHL scoring behind his wings, Tyler Steenbergen (ARI) and Aleksi Heponiemi. While any line with a combined 150 points in 21 games is surely creating a lot of that offence from sound defence, one of Gawdin’s traits has been gaining possession through checking and winning faceoffs.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Gawdin is a right-shot centre whose new NHL club is very left-leaning down the middle on the organizational depth chart. That might give Gawdin a sliver of an opening when he goes pro full-time in 2018-19.

New name to know: Brooklyn Kalmikov, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)

Born in St. John’s, N.L., where his father Konstanin Kalmikov played for the old AHL Maple Leafs, and raised in Terrebonne, Que., Kalmikov has that “son of an ex-pro” anticipation and hockey sense. That factored into the left wing being one of the Eagles’ first-round choices in the QMJHL draft last summer. Those traits were also in full effect when the 16-year-old scored his first QMJHL hat trick against Halifax. Kalmikov found a slew of space to be left unguarded to rifle in two power-play goals, and completed the hat trick by scoring on a backhand.

That a 16-year-old, who’s listed at 6-foot and 153 pounds, is playing on the QMJHL’s No. 1 power play is a hint at Kalmikov’s potential. After two multi-point efforts last week, he has six goals and 13 points across his last 12 games.


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