April 26th, 2017, the Mississauga Steelheads defeat the Peterborouugh Pets 7-0 to win the Bobby Orr trophy as Eastern Conference champions in the Ontario Hockey League. Not bad for a team that was last in the East at one point.
Many people who follow the OHL closely thought last years success would carry over into the next season, and with good reason. The Steelheads would see elite forwards Michael McLeod, Owen Tippet and Ryan McLeod all come back a year older and more experienced. Not to mention the recent second round pick of the Vegas Golden Knights, Nicolas Hague, who has arguably had the best season of any Steelheads defencman. Mississauga would also get draft year goalie Jacob Ingham back, and after being the first goalie selected in the 2016 OHL draft and having a .907 save percentage in 31 games the season before, expectations were high for Ingham.
All signs were pointing up for the Steelheads in the 2017-18 season. But through 65 games, the Steelheads are just 31-31-1-2 through, good for just 7th of 10 teams in the Eastern Conference.
So what happened to make a team with such high expectations struggle to make the playoffs?
At one point during the 2016-17 season the Steelheads were dead last in their conference. By the end of the season they were second in the conference and on their way to the OHL finals.
This is why when Mississauga got off to a rough start to their year many people weren’t worried. However unlike last season, this seasons Steelheads team hasn’t been able to string wins together.
To their credit, they have been picking up some wins as of late, but if they want to have the same success in the playoffs that they did last year, they’ll need to find a way to win on a more regular basis.
There no question who the best defensemen on the Steelheads is. After being drafted 34th overall in last years entry draft, Nic Hague has been having an incredible season. Through 64 games played, Hague has 33 goals and 74 points, good for second in points from defensemen.
However after Hague the Steelheads are lacking. Their number 2 defensemen, and Los Angeles Kings 5th round draft pick, Jacob Moverare has been out with an injury he suffered playing for team Sweden in the World Juniors Championships, and according to reports, it’s very likely he won’t return this season.
There are some up and coming defensemen in recent first round pick, Thomas Harley and 18 year old Issac Walker, however these guys might still be a couple years away from being elite OHL defensemen.
While Hague has been arguably the best OHL defensemen offensively this season, many fans question the defensive side of the game. And when your only top pairing defensemen struggles defensively, it can be hard to keep the puck out of the back of your net.
Jacob Ingham was selected in the 2nd round, 26th overall in the 2016 OHL draft. As the first goalie selected in his draft, expectations were high for Ingham. Despite this he still managed to exceed them in his rookie season last year, with a 17-6-6 record, 2.69 GAA and .907 SVP.
Everything looked up for Ingham going into draft year. He had the starting position with relatively no competition. He had the potential to be the highest drafted goalie in the 2019 NHL draft, and his team was poised to be dominate in the OHL.
However things haven’t gone as expected for Ingham. Through 42 games this season, Ingham has a 15-22-2 record, 3.72 GAA and .880 SVP. On top of this Ingham has lost his starting position during parts of the season to a goalie who had a combined 21 OHL games going into this season.
Before the season began, Steelheads head coach/GM James Richmond acquired goaltender Emanuel Vella, likely to be a backup to Ingham. Despite that, Vella has outperformed Ingham at times, and has often taken the starting job. Vella was even awarded CHL goaltender of the week just a couple weeks ago. However in the games following that Vella would struggle, getting pulled in his first start following the award. This would lead to Ingham getting the net once again.
While the goaltending for the Steelheads this season hasn’t been what was expected, Mississauga have the right goalies to make a deep run in the playoffs. Ingham showed last year that he is capable of being an elite goalie in the OHL. And although Vella has been streaky this season, he’s shown he can be the best goalie in the OHL when he’s on top of his game.
Nicolas Hague has been the Steelheads MVP this season. With 33 goals as a defensmen, that’s obvious. But on top of leading OHL defemsmen in points, Hague is also 4th in the OHL in penalty in minutes with 101.
It often feels like Hague can’t leave his own zone without taking some sort of dumb penalty. And if he disagrees with a penalty made against him, he’ll make sure to let the referee know.
It’s not only Hague that has had this problem, the Steelheads team as a whole has struggled with discipline this season. If they want to make another deep run in the playoffs, they’ll need to be more disciplined.
This season hasn’t gone as planned for the Mississauga Steelheads. Despite high expectations, the Steelheads sit just 7th with just 3 games remaining. Lack of consistency, struggle on defense, shaky goaltending and stupid penalties have all derailed what would have been a great season.
Despite all the struggles, the Steelheads still have star players like Michael McLeod, Owen Tippet, Ryan McLeod and Nicolas Hague. Once the playoffs start, anything could happen. The Steelheads have the star power to make another deep run in the playoffs, no matter what happened during the regular season.