The Mississauga Steelheads season ended on Sunday afternoon, losing by a score of 5-4 against the North Bay Battalion in game 6. The team clawed back from a 5-1 deficit to make for an intense finish, but the veteran experience prevailed when it mattered.
Dom DiVincentiis stood tall at key moments in this game, robbing James Hardie in the second period. Ryerson Leenders faced a high volume of shots early on, with eight coming in the first 6 minutes of the opening period. Both stood tall at certain points, but the offense found holes in different moments to change the pace of the matchup. Score effects were applied in the third period, as the Steelheads outshot the Battalion 15-6 in the final frame. Their final push was not enough to even up the score, and the final game has been played between the two sides.
The series has now concluded, with the Battalion moving into the second round of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) playoffs. Let’s look at three takeaways coming out of the final matchup, from the Steelhead’s young players, to potential concerns with the victorious team.
The Youth Movement Is Turning Heads In Mississauga
Coming into Sunday afternoon, Luke Misa only had 1 point in 5 games, and was not converting on the chances that he was receiving. Being moved to the third line, he excelled in transition, and made strong plays along the board to continue the cycle. Looking at this sequence, he skated down low and ended up in a 1-on-1 battle with Paul Christopoulos. He pivots 45 degrees to face the Battalion defender, and simultaneously, passed the puck behind his skates to swiftly regain possession to find an open lane. Next season, he will be eligible for the 2024 NHL Draft, and will need to learn how to finish at a higher rate, while continuing to be a threat in transition.
Finn Harding, who struggled as a rookie defenseman, has shown that he has untapped offensive potential. Looking at this sequence in the second period, the blueliner displayed strong deceptiveness in his east-to-west movement and created the controlled zone entry. Since there are players in the midst of a line change, he activated into the rush, and fired a low-percentage shot onto the net. Considering there will be changes to the Steelhead’s defensive core and youth will be more relied upon, expect Harding to produce at twice his production from his first season, which was 10 points in 63 games.
Last, let’s have another conversation on Ryerson Leenders, who faced high shot volumes in the early parts of this matchup. As the game settled in, his rebound control solidified, and his athleticism was put on display. Looking at his save against Anthony Romani, the 16-year-old netminder was able to read the play as it was developing, and went into the butterfly position to secure the puck. There will be a great opportunity for Leenders to play in more games in the coming seasons, and the playoff experience gained will be critical in future series.
Final Farewell to the Overagers
Since the Steelheads were eliminated in game 6, it meant that it was the final game in the OHL careers of Charlie Callaghan, James Hardie, and Kasper Larsen. Starting with Hardie, there is a reason he is known as “Mr. Franchise” and “Mr. Steelhead,” as he is one of the best players in the organization’s history. Just looking at the record books, he ranks first in goals (128) and points (244), and got to finish his tenure as co-captain. Although he is currently undrafted, it’s tough to imagine that an NHL organization will not sign him to either an ECHL, AHL, or an ELC, at some point in the offseason. There won’t be many players that make a bigger impact in Mississauga than number fourteen.
Looking at the other co-captain in Charlie Callaghan, and it’s clear that his work ethic cannot be matched by many players in the league. Drafted at 148th overall in the 8th round of the 2018 OHL Priority Selection, he was viewed as a longshot to ever play at this level. Through determination, he proved that his undersized frame wouldn’t limit his playstyle if he became more competitive and added a physical element to his game. As he progressed through each season, he became a better overall player and added to his offensive skillset in his final year. He produced 27 points in 56 games, and likely has a U SPORTS career waiting for him, in the case that an AHL or ECHL deal cannot be found. I wouldn’t rule out a professional career for this player in the future, as he’s always worked to make it to that next level.
Finally, Kasper Larsen came back to the Steelheads after an invite to the Toronto Marlies training camp. He struggled in his return to the OHL, producing at a lower point-per-game rate than his previous season, dropping from 0.75 to 0.64. However, his 6’6 frame will make him an enticing option for prospective NHL teams, and will allow for him to play at a professional level in North America next season. Always a great person to interview, and did a lot for the Mississauga community, as did Hardie and Callaghan. All three players will be missed in the years to come, but their legacies will never be forgotten.
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North Bay Has Troubles Ahead
Let’s make this clear, North Bay is a well constructed team in all aspects. DiVincentiis is going to allow them to go far in any playoff series, and their depth in the forward and defense positions gives them a balanced lineup. However, there are concerns about how the consistency of their special teams in this series.
Starting with their power play, the Battalion came into game 4 at 7.7% on the man advantage. However, the last two games have flipped the script, as they have scored 37.5% of their opportunities in games 5 and 6. In future series, they will need to focus on utilizing their offensive weapons in Ty Nelson, Kyle McDonald, and Kyle Jackson. They create at a high level at 5v5, scoring 8 goals as a team in the last two games to clinch the series.
Looking at their penalty kill, the Battalion finished with 84.6% throughout the six games. They improved in this regard as the matches went on, and players such as Avery Winslow proved their value in creating takeaways and steals. When they’re playing at the top of their game, only a few teams are capable of limiting their offense and shot volume. In order to beat the likes of Ottawa, and London in future series, assuming those teams advance that far, they will need to play similar to games 5 and 6, as opposed to games 2 and 4.
Overall, this was an entertaining series in all aspects, and it showcased the greatness of the OHL playoffs. The underdogs are the story this year, and none of the top seeds should feel secure based on their regular season success.
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