The Mississauga Steelheads have turned around what was looking to be a rather dismal season, causing the departure of veteran leaders to retool for the foreseeable future.
Steelheads fans had tons to be excited about when the 2018-2019 regular season began as they had an elite, talented core group of players that seemed poised to lead them on a memorable final run. This included both the Ontario Hockey League championship, and of course the Mastercard Memorial Cup.
What actually happened was a Mississauga team that struggled to contend at the top of the standings in the Central division and started to slip in the Eastern Conference standings following consecutive losses on multiple occasions. The Steelheads sat fourth in the Central Division, trailing the North Bay Battalion and the Hamilton Bulldogs heading into the January 10th trade deadline for all OHL teams.
To some, it was writing on the wall for Mississauga, a sign that it was time to breakdown the team and “Restock the cupboards” for the future ahead. This is what led general manager James Richmond to start making calls in the team’s front office. First, he acquired right-winger C.J. Clarke from the Flint Firebirds before trading forward Ryan McLeod to the Saginaw Spirit for Duncan Penman. That deal also included a pair of drafts picks for five of the next six seasons.
This wouldn’t be it for James Richmond and his squad as two days later, Florida Panthers prospect Owen Tippet was dealt to Saginaw for Aidan Prueter. Once again, the trade included a pair of draft picks in exchange. The Steelheads then finished strong, acquiring Nick McHugh from the Kitchener Rangers before they would evidently trade defensemen Daniel Nardi to the Hamilton Bulldogs.
This made for plenty of movement from former players leaving to new players joining and they still had not finished making moves to re-bolster the roster. With the deadline closing in on the final day for teams to make transactions, Mississauga traded Mike Little to the Peterborough Petes in exchange for forward Nick Isaacson in a last minute deal.
This was the team that James Richmond believed would turn the season around, ultimately pushing the Steelheads over the hump and deep into postseason play. It was also the team he restructured in just a little over a week. Fast forward a month later and the Steelheads have now leaped over the North Bay Battalion for third place in the Central Division, sitting just nine points back of the Sudbury Wolves who hold steady in second place.
The Steelheads, now led by Alan Lyszczarczyk, Cole Carter, Thomas Harley and Keean Washkurak, sit fifth overall in the Eastern Conference, tied with Hamilton while chasing down the Oshawa Generals who sit in fourth place. Harley and Washkurak are both ranked by NHL Central Scouting and are also NHL draft eligible prospects for the 2019 NHL Draft. Mississauga came out of the holiday break with their newly acquired players in the mix, starting their climb towards the playoffs.
They have gone 4-4-2 in their previous ten games and are now above .500 for the season, a spot they originally found themselves sitting below heading into the January 9th trade deadline. The Steelheads tallied consecutive wins against Flint, Owen Sound, Sarnia and Barrie before losing two consecutive games to division rivals Hamilton and Sudbury coming out of the holiday break.
While Mississauga is a team many had written off with the departures of the team’s former leading scorer and veteran presence, the management and scouting staff have now given their team an opportunity to make a run at the Memorial Cup.
It appears that this this club is far from the team we once knew it to be prior to the whirlwind that was the trade freeze. If you view the club from the outside looking in on the organization today, you now have a determined group of players fighting to give it all every night in competition.
With plenty of time left for the ascend to continue, although not at all safe from falling out of the playoff picture, the Steelheads will need continued production from their talented young group with a little mix of veteran leadership to get the job done.