National Junior A Championship Team Preview: Oakville Blades (OJHL)

Oakville makes 1st NJAC visit since 2010 after winning OJHLs Buckland Cup & Central Region’s DudleyHewitt Cup title

CALGARY, Alta. The culmination of the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s 2018-19 campaign will be completed in Brooks, Alta., as they host the Canadian National Junior A Championship, May 11-19, at Centennial Regional Arena.

Here’s a look at the Central Region representative, the Oakville Blades, of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.

HEAD COACH: Mike Tarantino

HOW THEY ARRIVED: A strong Oakville side has arrived in Brooks as they look to continue their winning ways.

The Blades have had a tremendous season to date after finishing first overall in the 22-team Ontario Junior Hockey League standings then kept it going by rolling to a Buckland Cup title before going unbeaten at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup in Cochrane, Ont., where they secured their trip to Alberta for the NJAC.

Regular season play saw Oakville rack up some impressive numbers while finishing third overall in the final CJHL Top 20 rankings for 2018-19.

They ended up with an OJHL-best record of 44-5-2-4 with their 94 points giving them the No. 1 seed in the postseason there.

With 23 wins at home and another 21 on the road, the club was a formidable opponent for anyone they faced.

The Blades began defeating the Brampton Admirals in five games to begin the playoffs, then proceeded to dispatch the Buffalo Jr. Sabres in another best-of-seven that only required five outings to decide things.

Up next, Oakville took on the Markham Royals in the North-West Conference Final and also won that match-up four games to one.

They then went on to sweep the defending OJHL and Dudley-Hewitt Cup champion Wellington Dukes to claim their league crown.

DUDLEYHEWITT CUP: With an OJHL title wrapped up, the Blades made the trip up to northern Ontario and the Dudley-Hewitt Cup in Cochrane.

Taking on the NOJHL champion Hearst Lumberjacks, it was the OJHLers who prevailed 4-2 in the event opener.

Next up was the host Cochrane Crunch of the NOJHL where after trailing 2-1 after 40 minutes, Oakville stormed back with five third period tallies to win 6-2.

They then proceeded to dismantle the Thunder Bay North Stars (SIJHL) 9-4 as they earned a spot directly to the final.

Meeting Hearst once again, a hotly contested match-up saw Ryan O’Hara’s second period marker hold up as the game-winner, before getting a late empty netter wrapped it up as they won 2-0 and claimed the DHC title for a third time in as many appearances.

FORWARDS: Another NJAC side that presents a well-balanced attack up front is the Oakville Blades.

Despite not having one player finish in the Top 10 in OJHL scoring in 2018-19, they did boast 11 skaters who registered 40 or more points on the campaign.

Leading the way was Spencer Kersten, who collected 60 points on 20 tallies and 40 assists.

After him was Thomas Maia at 58 points as he too notched 20 goals along the way and supplied 38 helpers.

Other 50-plus-point men were forward Kyle Lewis and defenceman Garrett Pyke.

In the playoffs, Kersten also led his squad with 24 points while Ryan Reeves was right behind him in 23. Kersten also led all skaters in scoring at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup as well.

DEFENCE: While Pyke paced the Blades defensive corps in offensive production, Ryan Nicholason chipped in 34 points from the back end while teammate Jack Lyons had 30.

GOALTENDERS: A standout in net, goaltender Will Barber had a solid season for Oakville going 22-4-2 in the regular season.

His 1.92 goals-against average placed him third in the NOJHL while his .925 save percentage tied him for eighth overall in that category. Barber was second in the OJHL in shutouts with seven.

His efforts in the playoffs were even better as he went 16-2 with a league-low 1.37 GAA and an OJHL-high .949 save mark along with three shutouts, which also led the league.

Barber was also 3-0 at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup while allowing just four goals against.

SPECIAL TEAMS: At 20.6%, Oakville was third in the OJHL on the P.P. and were seventh on the P.K. at 85.4%.

BLADES BITS: Oakville presently has 12 players on their roster who have made commitments to play NCAA hockey on scholarship. … The Blades are making their first trip back to the National Junior A Championship since 2010. … That’s years’ event was held in Dauphin, Man., and the organization went winless, going 0-4 and not qualifying for the semifinals. … They are competed in the 2008 NJAC held in Cornwall, Ont., where they went 1-2-1 to tie for fourth, but missed out on the semis due to an OT setback vs. Pictou County from Nova Scotia, who they ended up knotted with in fourth. … Oakville head coach Mike Tarantino is a finalist for the Darcy Haugan/Mark Cross Memorial Award, emblematic of CJHL Coach of the Year, presented by the NHL Coaches’ Association.

With files from: Jim Mason, Director of Communications (OJHL); Jason La Rose, Manager, Content Services (Hockey Canada); Spencer Sharkey, Coordinator, Communications (Hockey Canada)