After a year away, it almost feels like there are more questions than answers as the Ontario Hockey League regular season kicks off tonight.
After COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020-21 OHL season last winter, 574 full days passed between regular season games.
To say there will be a lot of new faces in the league this season would be a major understatement as many teams will have turned over as much as half their rosters from the last time the league played games on March 11, 2020.
Locally for example, the Soo Greyhounds enter the regular season with a pair of rookie goaltenders and an opening night roster that will feature 14 rookies in total.
Speaking of young goaltenders, inexperience in goal is a common theme across the league.
Though a number of teams have goaltenders who have started games in the league, not many have seen significant time as starters.
Owen Sound’s Mack Guzda is the elder statesman in goal, having played 130 games with the Attack as he enters his overage season.
The Mississauga Steelheads added some experience through the waiver wire, claiming former Western Hockey League netminder Roman Basran ahead of the season. Basran played 119 games with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets before moving east.
Flint’s Luke Cavallin (87 games) is the only other goaltender currently on an opening-day roster that has cracked 50 games in the league.
To say experienced goaltenders are at a premium this season would be an understatement.
That doesn’t mean the quality isn’t there between the pipes.
Whether it’s Brett Brochu of the London Knights, Tristan Lennox of the Saginaw Spirit, or Ben Gaudreau of the Sarnia Sting, there certainly are some goaltenders, experienced or not, that could be turning some heads this season.
Regardless of the number of new faces in the league this season, some big names stand to keep fans engaged early on this season.
Whether it’s Shane Wright in Kingston, who is a leading candidate to be the top pick in the 2022 NHL draft, or Barrie Colts defenceman Brandt Clarke, a top prospect of the Los Angeles Kings, the league will continue to boast some impressive talents as it does every year.
The first few weeks of the regular season stand to be some of the more interesting hockey the league has seen in a long time.
Mixing in some of the high-end returning players with a rookie crop around the league that includes two draft classes and a number of 2003 birth year players as well, it’s going to be a major adjustment for the rookies to catch up to where the veterans are.
It's common to hear rookies around the league talk about the adjustment that needs to be made to the speed of the OHL game and playing against older players.
Soo Greyhounds rookie defenceman spoke of the adjustments he needed to make during training camp as he settled in locally.
“One thing was the physicality,” Gibson said of the difference as camp went on. “With the younger guys not having contact for a year-and-a-half, we all went into it not being super physical. When the older guys came in and knew how to play OHL hockey, they came in and ran us into the boards.”
That being said, there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to the first-year platers around the league as well.
It’s hard not to be excited to see the likes of 2020 first overall pick Ty Nelson in North Bay or 2021 top pick Quentin Musty of Sudbury playing in meaningful OHL games this weekend.
Looking back at the 2020 draft, each of the top five picks come with some fanfare, as do the top 2021 picks set to play this season.
If there was ever a season with expanded storylines more than any other year, the 2021-22 season would be it.
As the puck drops on a new season in the OHL, sit back and enjoy the ride.