Are The Mississauga Steelheads Contenders For The Postseason?

Entering the 2021-22 season, I predicted that the Mississauga Steelheads would usher in a rebuilding season, as most followers of the OHL did as well. I predicted that first and foremost, the team would focus on the evolution of their rookies. Trying to develop the next Cole Schwindt, Nic Canade and Thomas Harley. Utilizing this current OHL season to turn the rookies into accomplished players (maybe even NHL prospects). Surprisingly though, rebuilding may be the furthest thing from the team’s mind, as the Steelheads are currently ranked as a top-10 team in the CHL’s weekly rankings, solidifying themselves as a top-two team in the league due to their most recent play.

Based on their current success, I would like to pose a pair of questions to you regarding the sincerity of their play. Is it sustainable with who’s on the bench? And do they have the mentality of a winning team?

First and foremost, is their current play sustainable? Under Head Coach James Richmond, it absolutely can be and has proven to be sustainable in the past. During his now five-year tenure as bench boss, Richmond has taken the Steelheads to the postseason in every season he has been behind the bench. Four out of five of those seasons, he led Mississauga to an above .500 winning percentage and is currently leading an offensively weaker team (on paper) compared to his 2019-20 roster, as the losses of Cole Schwindt and others decimated the projected roster this year. At the moment though, this “weaker” team is playing at the highest level and is constantly a club that can perform in the Ontario Hockey League. They have won nine of their last 11 games, while earning at least one point in each contest. They also broke a franchise record for longest earned point streak. All while Richmond and his coaching staff (Brendon Taylor and Jeff Kyrzakos) are at the helm. In this case, it helps to have a capable coaching staff. One that’s been able to bring out the best in its players in each of the last five campaigns. One that’s accomplished developing the rookies into second-year form so early on in their OHL careers.

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Two fine examples of this include Owen Beck and Zak Lavoie, who are now the impactful players that they were drafted to be. And that’s already on top of veteran goal-scoring guru James Hardie, and the emergence of Luca Del Bel Belluz. So, is the current play sustainable based on coaching? Yes, I think it is.

Secondly, do they have a winning mentality? To answer that question, I decided to ask the potential contenders themselves. I asked Steelheads forwards Owen Beck and James Hardie a couple of questions regarding the current mentality within the locker room. Below is how the duo responded.

At this current moment, what would you say is the mentality right now in the locker room in terms of what the team wants to accomplish this season? 

Hardie: “I think we all have the same goal in mind. We have a very tight group and we all want to win,” he said. “The locker room is always upbeat and in a great mood. I think we have a great group of people that can win a lot of hockey games this season.”

Beck: “At this point in time, I would say that the mentality is to continue the success we’ve had early on throughout the rest of the year. We’ve established ourselves as a top team in the east and we want to keep it that way.”

With that being said, do you think with the first half you are currently having that a long playoff run can be ahead at the end of the season?

Hardie: “Yes, 100%. I think the guys in the locker room and myself have a lot of high hopes in this group. We have a deep lineup with a lot of hard-working skilled players,” the 19-year-old said. “We are a hard working team, and the more work we put in, the better the outcome in games. So, I for sure think we can definitely make a long playoff run. If we stick to our identity and play hard together, we can go far.”

Beck: “I think a long playoff run is a possibility given the way we’re playing. At this point, consistency is key for us because we know we’re one of the best teams in the league when we play our best,” said the native of Port Hope. “Now we need to focus on bringing that effort every night for the rest of the year because deep playoff runs aren’t built off good performances here and there. They’re built off of good performances each night.”

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That identity Hardie brought up is the hard-to-play against, 200-foot game that the Steelheads have been known for all season. That also includes having all skaters on the ice contribute to the team’s defence, while being able to forecheck offensively at the first site of a scoring opportunity.

In those answers, Hardie and Beck both voiced the importance of consistency and being able to put in the work to achieve a long playoff run; messages that have been echoed by the 2019-20 Steelheads team. We saw that train of thought and mentality play out before the pandemic hit, as Mississauga was on a fine run in the second half of the campaign, which put them in position to clinch a spot in the postseason. This all came to a halt, as the season’s remainder was cancelled, robbing their playoff hopes in the process. It seems as though the organization as a whole has picked up right where they last were; gelling with each other to create a bond and a foundation that can’t break. At the same time, they’re echoing the importance of consistency and hard work.

This is a hockey team that is currently riding on a confidence high. A team that believes in one another, using their chemistry to fuel the on-ice results. Furthermore, the results are fruitful, paving the way for a just as positive second half in the new year.

In conclusion, do I think they can go far this season? Yes, I think they can go far. I will say though, the franchise has been known to be streaky at some points, but in terms of their play this season, they seem to be genuine. The results depend on the consistency and hard work that Hardie, Beck, and others put in. If they want to go far, that fait remains up to how they perform. Time will tell if their goal comes to fruition.

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