Seemingly the surprise team in the eastern conference this season, the Oshawa Generals performed at a level one year ahead of expectations.
The Generals were a competitive and home-ice finishing team this season. Moves made by general manager Roger Hunt ultimately pushed forward the success on the ice.
Coming into the 2018-2019 season, the three overage players were Domenico Commisso, Eric Henderson and Matthew Brassard. None of whom finished the season in Oshawa.
The Generals traded Commisso and Henderson earlier in the season to make room on the roster for overage goalie Mario Peccia. Starter Kyle Keyser dealt with injuries in the early stages of the year.
Once Keyser returned the roster spots opened, and Hunt turned to Sarnia and Hamilton.
The Generals acquired overage forward Anthony Salinitri from Sarnia for his scoring ability after moving Commisso and Henderson.
His impact was immediate with Oshawa when he scored three hat-tricks in his first 12 games with the team.
“I knew coming to Oshawa would offer me a fresh opportunity, so I wanted to impress and play my best hockey,” said Salinitri. “I really enjoyed playing in front of the Oshawa fan base, and I truly believe it helped with my success.”
Fans in Oshawa began to see some positives after the Salinitri trade but unsure after Hunt’s next move.
The Generals then traded top forward and defenceman, Jack Studnicka and Matt Brassard to the Niagara IceDogs. In exchange, 16-year-old defenceman Lleyton Moore and six draft picks came back.
“Lleyton is a dynamic, skilled, young defenceman, who was highly touted in his draft year,” said Hunt. “He will be a huge asset for our organization with the direction we are going.”
This move left Generals’ fans thinking “time for a rebuild”, but Hunt again proved he knew what he was doing. Without his top defenceman and forward, Hunt looked within his division to fill the new holes.
Nicolas Mattinen and Brandon Saigeon from Hamilton were added to bolster the now offensive Generals’ lineup.
Hunt had high praise for both players.
“Nicolas is a big, good skating, right-handed shot defenceman that had a lot of playoff experience, which all along had been what we felt was important to add to this group,” said Hunt. “He was motivated to win again in his final OHL season, and we couldn’t be happier to have had him as an Oshawa General.”
Hunt wanted to reassure success was coming to his fans with the moves.
“Brandon is a proven playoff performer,” said Hunt. “Last year he had 25 points in 21 playoff games during Hamilton’s championship run. He has Memorial Cup experience which was an important factor for our organization.”
With one other addition of Kingston’s Brett Neumann, the Oshawa Generals became one of the top teams in the entire Ontario Hockey League. After the trade deadline, Oshawa only lost seven games, going 21-5-2 (.786%.)
In the playoffs, the Generals overachieved in the eyes of many, after defeating the Niagara IceDogs in the second round. The IceDogs were a heavy favourite to win the eastern conference and potentially the OHL title.
Salinitri said the team was full of character guys who came together for the upset.
“To some people, we overachieved, but to me as a leader and to our team we underachieved. We truly felt we had the best team in the league and that we could do something special,” he said. “The team battled day in and day out, but we had so much fun along the way. We always found a way to overcome the adversity.”
The team loses all three of the overage players they acquired at the deadline as well as the likes of Keyser, and all but one of, Kyle Bollers, Cole Resnick, Nando Eggenberger, Matthieu France, Aidan Hughes, and Ian Blacker.
Oshawa will adjust again for another season where they are a favourite in their division and conference. There is a wave of young talent coming up through the ranks.
The 2019 draft saw 2003-born Brett Harrison and Daniel Michaud selected in the first two rounds.
Ty Tullio and Dylan Robinson will return next year with more significant roles on the team’s offense, alongside fellow 2002-born Dawson McKinney and Ryan Gagnier. In net, the duo of the new commitment Zachary Paputsakis and Matthew Sbrocca will have large shoes to fill.
Salinitri said the long playoff run was necessary for the team, despite the conference final loss.
“The longer you play, the more experience you have and the faster you learn what it takes to win,” said Salinitri.
He says while a lot of the veterans may be leaving the fans should not be worried.
“As for next year, I believe the Generals have a bright future. They have a lot of young talent along with the talent of the veterans who are coming back,” Salinitri said. “I hope they can do better than what we did this year because the city of Oshawa deserves another championship.”