The 2015 OLA Junior A lacrosse league season got underway just over a week ago, as the Kitchener-Waterloo Braves welcomed the Burlington Chiefs to town. The Braves went on to win the season opener by a score of 10-5, and since then every team except the Brampton Excelsiors and defending Minto Cup Champion Six Nations Arrows have seen at least one game of action. With many players still trickling back from their NCAA commitments rosters are still rounding out, but with that being said, expect to see a ton of parity between teams this season. In 2015 you’ll likely see a top 5 grouping of Whitby, Six Nations, Brampton, Orangeville and Peterborough battle it out for the top seed, as there is very little separation among the aforementioned clubs, while the likes of Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto, St. Catharines, Burlington and will Barrie battle it out for the remaining three playoff positions. The Mimico Mountaineers who entered the Junior A loop this season as the Mississauga Tomahawks dropped down to junior B, brought over much of the same team that competed in Mississauga last season, and while they did make some impressive additions they will in all likelihood be in tough this season.
1. Whitby Warriors
The 2014 season was supposed to be a rebuilding one of sorts for the Whitby Warriors, as they saw a large turnover in their roster following their 2013 Minto Cup Championship run. However the rebuilt Warriors somewhat unexpectedly found themselves back in the OLA finals, despite a 12-8 regular season record. The Warriors where however ultimately swept by the Six Nations Arrows in the league final. The good news is the Warriors don’t lose a ton for the last seasons roster, while leading scorer Reilly O’Connor has moved on to the Brooklin Redmen and key defensive players Pat McCrory and Tyler Gilligan have also graduated from the Junior ranks, the Warriors return a potent offense, a large portion of there very sound defensive unit and two strong goaltenders. Offensively expect the Warriors to be lead by fifth year guys Ryan Keenan and Austin Shanks. Last season Shanks racked up 57 goals and 104 points, while Keenan narrowly missed out on the 100 point plateau as he picked up 47 goals & 51 assists for 98 points. While opposing defenses will likely key in on Shanks and Keenan, the Warriors are deep offensively as you can expect Luke Keenan, Bennett Drake and Connor Kearnan to produce at a potent pace all season. Rookie Tristan Rai has been impressive early on this season and should contribute as the season continues to roll on. You can also expect Dawson Theede to put up some points for the Warriors in 2015 as the 2nd year player racked up 69 points in 19 games with the Green Gaels Jr. B club last season, on route to OLA Junior B Eastern Conference Rookie of the Year honors. Defensively the Warriors are aggressive and like to push the pace in transition, they’ll be able to do so again this season, as they lose just two members of last years very sound defense. Expect Daryl Robertson, Matt Hossack and Riley McKinnon to be integral parts to the Warriors defense, with the likes of Connor Laid, Jordi Jones-Smith and Tanner Theede also playing large rolls with the club. Last season goaltending was a question mark, however Josh Delves proved to be a capable number one guy between the pipes. This season Delves is joined in the Whitby goal with Mike DeGirolamo and Jason Weber. The Warriors have depth offensively, defensively and in goal, they also have the veteran leadership and the experience needed in big games to make a lengthy playoff and Minto Cup run, and for those reasons I have the Warriors narrowly edging out the likes of Six Nations, Orangeville and Brampton for the top spot.
2. Six Nations Arrows
The Arrows where the cream of the crop last season, riding a 16-4 regular season record to the top seed throughout the 2014 playoffs. The playoffs gave the Arrows little issue as they disposed of St. Catharines, Peterborough and Whitby, on route to the league Championship. The Arrows followed up their Ontario Championship, with a win over the Coquitlam Adanacs for the Minto Cup, there first since the 2007 season. While the Arrows do lose six very key contributors to last years Minto Cup Championship club, they also return a ton. Gone from last seasons team are Johnny Powless, Quinn Powless, Ian Martin, Anthony Patterson, Ian Martin and Don Alton, all of the aforementioned players either play or have been drafted by NLL clubs, so to say their presence will be missed would be an understatement. With that being said 2014 leading scorer Austin Staats returns to the Arrows, and you can expect a big year out of the youngster. Josh Johnson and Jordan Durston also return offensively for the Arrows, as both players look to be on track for career seasons in 2015. Look for rookies Travis Longboat and Tehoka Nanticoke-Hill to step in at the Junior A level and continue to produce as they have at the Jr. B level. Joe Maracle who had 49 points last season, will likely be the biggest breakout player for the Arrows offensively this season, as he should benefit from a year in and around the NLL. If Seth Oakes commits to the Arrows for a full season, it is possible but the Arrows offense could be just as potent as it was last season. Defensively the Arrows return Leo Stourus and Shane Simpson as well as tough guy Trevor Stacey. The Arrows D unit was the hardest hit, however you can expect draft picks and affiliated players to move up to the Junior A club with a seamless transition. However its the uncertainty on their back end that led me to give the Warriors the slight early season edge. In goal Doug Jamieson was excellent throughout the 2014 regular season, playoffs an Minto Cup and I see no reason why he can’t duplicate those performances in 2015. Jamieson will challenge for the OLA’s Goaltender of the Year award in 2015. The Arrows will once again be in the conversation to repeat as Minto Cup Champions in 2015, however the road to get their may be a little tougher this year.
3. Brampton Excelsiors
The Brampton Excelsiors haven’t won a Minto Cup since the 1959 season when they defeated the New Westminster Salmonbellies to capture the championship. Last season the Excelsiors looked to have a squad capable of snapping that streak of consecutive years without a Canadian Championship, however the Whitby Warriors had other ideas, when they upset them four games to two in the league Semi-Finals. When you look at the roster turnover from last years squad, you wonder how Brampton would even compete for a playoff spot, led alone a championship. Teams don’t simply lose eight of their top players and return to the top, however Brampton finds themselves in a position to do just that. The Excelsiors return their top five scorers from last season, and have also added Jacob Bomberry from the Six Nations Rebels Junior B team, where Bomberry recorded 104 last season. Zach Herreweyers led the Excelsiors in scoring last season with 51 goals and 98 points, you can expect Herreweyers to challenge for the OLA Junior A scoring championship this season, as he and youngster Jeff Teat will be the go to guys offensively for Brampton in 2015. The Excelsiors back end was the area most effected by graduation, however you can expect the likes of Adam Wiedemann, Connor McClelland and Travis Burton to step up defensively this season. Quintan Martin was a large reason for the Excelsiors success last season, as he went 12-1 in goal for Brampton, recording a 8.00 goals against average. Martin may arguably the best goalie in the Junior A loop this season, as he and Doug Jamieson of the Six Nations Arrows will likely duke it out for Goaltender of the Year honors. The large turnover on the Brampton back end is why I have them in the three spot, you can expect Quintan Martin to help as the newly inserted players find their niche on the Excelsiors defense, however the growing pains may cost them a close game or two early on, which may ultimately be enough to cost them the first seed.
4. Orangeville Northmen
Last season was a rebuilding one for the Northmen, but really Northmen teams never rebuild, they simply reload. An we saw that last season as the Northmen went 12-8, but found themselves in a four way tie for 3 place, ultimately losing the tie breakers and finishing 6th overall. Still things looked good going into the playoffs, however the Northmen ending up dropping their first round playoff match up with the Whitby Warriors. The Northmen lose Jordan Dance, Brandon Armstrong and Michael Fournier to graduation from last years roster, while potent offensive gun Connor Brown was moved to the Toronto Beaches in an off season trade (Brown was subsequently traded by the Beaches to K-W). With just four key contributors gone from a very sound and deep club, you can expect the Northmen to challenge for the regular season and playoff crown once again this season. Offensively the Northmen are as deep as the have been in years, while there is no Adam Jones, Rob Hellyer or Jeremy Noble headlining the lineup you can expect a few guys to break out an create that name for themselves this season. Lucas Ducharme was brought in from the Windsor Junior B club last season, and was effective for Orangeville racking up 60 points in 19 games. Look for Ducharme to be one of those Northmen to explode offensively in 2015. Ian MacKay who finished 3rd in Northmen scoring with 46 points last season will be given a larger role offensively this season, and should thrive with the added responsibility. Dallas Bridle and Davis Neal should also see significant spikes in their offensive production this season, while rookie Riley Armstrong who put up 100 points in junior B as a 16 year old last season, should be able to translate his offensive success to the Junior A level. Brandon Clelland will lead the Northmen defense, as the NLL rookie was very effective with the Vancouver Stealth this season. Expect veterans Jamie McMahon and Josh Coyle to play large defensive roles, while the toughness of Cooper Del Zotto and Mackenzie Mitchell will make the Northmen defense one to be feared. Transition player Jeff Henrick who is committed to Ohio State University is also an under the radar name to keep an eye on with Orangeville as the season wears on. The Northmen lack experience in goal, which is why they are the 4th of the big 4 at this moment, however Nolan Clayton has shown well early on this season. Clayton comes to the Northmen from the Elora Mohawks Junior B club where he went 11-3 last season, with a 7.01 goals against average. Backing up Clayton will be Drayden Patey who played in a back up role with the Halton Hills Bulldogs last season.
5. Peterborough Lakers
The Lakers narrowly edge out the Kitchener-Waterloo Braves for the fifth seed. While I believe the Lakers are ultimately the better team by a narrow margin, I can see the Braves claiming the fifth seed in regular season play, as the Lakers tend to be a team who come on strong in the second half of the season. Peterborough will wait for the likes of Jake Withers and Holden Cattoni to return from the NCAA commitments, and the whole the leave is a big one, they Lakers are deep so the should be able to withstand the early goings without the pair. The Lakers will also have to withstand the loses of Turner Evans and Josh Currier this season as the pair move on the Major Series Lacrosse. While Evans and Currier are big losses to the Lakers offense, you can expect Holden Cattoni to light up the league upon his arrival in Peterborough. You can also expect a break out year from Cam Milligan offensively. Milligan has posted three seasons of impressive numbers (56, 58 & 48 points), and early indications are he will challenge for the scoring championship in 2015. Dan Michel is the glue offensively, an unheralded guy for the most part, expect a big year out of Michel as Milligan, Cattoni and Michel could be the best trio offensively of any team in the league. Zach Bryant comes up from the Clarington Green Gaels program, and you can expect him to be impactful early on, while Cole MacWilliams comes up from the Lakers Jr. C team after a 100 point season in just 14 games. Defensively the Lakers are always a physical, tenacious bunch, and this season will be no different as the club will be led by the likes of Thomas Hoggarth, Jake Withers and Tyler Roche. Goaltending is the area of concern for the Lakers, as it has been for many years. Brett Lafonte went 6-3 last season in 9 appearances and looks to have the strangle hold on the starters position, however Patrick Pollock will be nipping on his heels after going a perfect 9-0 with the Clarington Green Gaels last season. The Lakers may have some issues early on, but as the season wears on and the roster solidifies expect the Lakers to challenge the Big Four for positioning.
6. Kitchener-Waterloo Braves
The K-W Braves have continued to improve, and while this year an next year may be their prime years to strike and make some noise, the powerhouses of junior lacrosse also all find themselves in years where they have rosters capable of winning a Minto Cup. None the less the K-W Braves find themselves in an excellent position heading into the 2015 season, they have depth offensively, return a strong core of their defense, and have found themselves strong, consistent goaltending. The addition of potent offensive threat Connor Brown from the Toronto Beaches gives the Braves two elite junior scorers, two off the best point producing offensive weapons in the province when you pair Brown up with Chris Cloutier, who had 89 points last season. Kyle Jackson is the lone departure from a sound Braves offensive unit, while Jackson’s 77 points will be missed, they will be offset by the addition of Brown and the growth of the likes of Drake Smith, Cody Hamley and Davis Prince. Shawn Lantz and Jay Milne come up from Junior B, where both players enjoyed consistent offensive success. Lantz racked up 92 points in 20 games with Elora, while Milne potted 67 points in 20 games with the Guelph Regals. Matthew Lee also joins the Braves on a full time bases in 2015 after spending part of last season with the Mimico Mountaineers Jr. B club. Defensively is where the Braves where hit hardest by graduation, as they lose Minnesota Swarm draft pick Eric Guiltinan, Jay McLay and Jay Lindsay. Zack Dybowski, Mike Montag and transition players Connor Cole and Cody Filson will be expected to pick up some slack on the back end in 2015. Kevin Orleman returns as the Braves starter after an impressive 2014 season in which he recorded a 10-8 record, with a 9.03 goals against average. This will be Orleman’s third season with the Braves after primarily serving as the teams back up in 2013. Orleman isn’t far off being an elite junior goaltender, if he can take that next step and go from good/slightly above average to elite it could change the Braves season significantly.
7. Toronto Beaches
For years its been the Mississauga Tomahawks last, the Toronto Beaches second last. But prior to the down years for the Beaches, the club enjoyed a ton of success, consistently being a playoff teams capable of capturing a title. The new regime in the Beaches look to have this new look club with a whole new mentality, this club looks like it can do some damage in 2015. While the Beaches will be in tough to win a Minto Cup in 2015, they will be that pesky team that upsets powerhouses and throws a wrench into their plans. The Beach will win games in 2015 and will challenge teams like K-W and Peterborough to move up the standings. However the games the Beaches need to win are the games against Mimico, Barrie, St. Catharines an Burlington, as those are the teams they will be competing with for one of the final playoff positions. The only real significant loss to the Beach roster from 2014 was Tanner Thomson who moved on to the Mimico Mountaineers. Meanwhile the Beach return leading scorers Ryan Lee, Chad Levick and John St. John. St. John’s 8 point explosion in Game 1 of the regular season may be an early indication that he is ready to break out. St. John showed very well during the Canadian Lacrosse League season with the Durham Turfdogs, and I expect him to challenge for the scoring title in 2015. Justin Huggins and Jackson Hulbert will also be expected to produce offensively, while transition players Anthony Joakim, Jake Cook, Jake Wilkinson and Garrett Lewis will be expected to be effective at both ends of the floor. Rookie Bryce Keats, Cory Burr and Tristan Hanna should all have an impact this season with the Beaches, although its expected that Keats will also toil with the Markham Ironheads and Burr will continue to suit up with his hometown Point Edward Pacers. In goal Michael Lalani returns to the club after going 3-3 last season. Rookie Brayden Bell looked good through training camp and should see some action this season. The Beaches have built a strong nucleus this year, and while they may be more ready to challenge for the big prize next season, the Beaches will be a team to watch out for in 2015.
8. Burlington Chiefs
The Burlington Chiefs where hit really hard by graduation following the 2014 season, they lose leading scorers Danny Lomas, Tyler Albrecht, Bryan Cole, transition players, Eric Wales, Chris Buswell, defensive stud Derek Searle and Broedie Birkof. In losing Lomas, Albrecht and Cole the Chiefs lose their three best offensive guns, while the losses of Searle and Birkof put the Cheifs without arguably their best two defenders from the 2014 season. Still there is hope in Burlington for yet another playoff run, as the Chiefs have done a fairly sound job in reloading, thanks in large part to the Oakville Buzz Jr. B club. Andrew Kew led the Buzz with 75 points last season and he is expected to slide right into the Chiefs lineup and be their go to offensive gun. Ryan Marchand had 90 points with the Windsor Clippers Junior B squad last season, and you can expect him to continue his offensive success this season with the Chiefs. Nolan Appers, Gianni Bianchin and Spencer Edler all of whom are returning offensive players, should all see increases in their point production with the added responsibilities. Defensively the Chiefs will need someone to step up and take over the reigns for Searle who was the unquestioned leader of the Chiefs defensive unit. Doug Buchan returns in goal for the Chiefs giving them much needed stability in goal as an untested defense will likely need an elite goaltender to save their bacon on some nights this summer. Buchan went 7-10 last season with a 9.58 goals against average. Buchan could arguably challenge Doug Jamieson and Quintan Martin for goalie of the year honors, however a weak defensive unit may throw a wrench in those plans. Expect the Chiefs and Athletics to engage in a heated battle throughout the season for the final playoff spot. If Burlington falls out of contention you can expect Buchan, Bianchin and Braden Wallace to be trade targets of contending teams.
9. St. Catharines Athletics
The St. Catharines Athletics made some waves late last season by squeaking into the playoffs in the 8th seed. While the Athletics where ultimately swept 3-0 by the Six Nations Arrows in round one of the playoffs, it was a big step for the Athletics, who look to get back to the glory days of the early 2000’s. In ranking the Athletics ninth, I want you all to understand that in reality the Beaches, Chiefs and Athletics are all right there in the same grouping and two of the three teams could grab the 7th and 8th squad. The Athletics return an impressive nucleus, but do lose key veterans Kyle Isaacs, Kyle Potter, Dylan Gatt and Ty Carvalho(trade). Up front the Athletics are led by Eric Fannell, who looks poised to contend for the scoring championship in 2015. Right behind Fannell are the likes of Jeff Witting, Cody Ward and Charlie Sheehan. Rookie Kyler Kilgour has impressed early on, and should he continue to produce it could give the Athletics yet another effective offensive option. Defensively all the key guys are back, Holden Garlent, Marcus Butters, Nicholas Beaudoin and Spencer Coats. The familiarity with one another should give the Athletics defense a leg up on some teams their chasing this season, as many defensive units where depleted by graduation following last season. In goal expect Jake Fox to get the ball and run with it. Fox got into two games last season with the Athletics going 1-1, while Fox is a sufficient Junior A tender, his lack of experience could be an issue moving forward. The Athletics did also acquire goaltender Connor Anyon from the Orangeville Northmen, and he could solve their goaltending issues, however he has yet to commit to the team. If St Catharines is to get consistent efforts throughout the lineup they do have the ability to upset teams throughout the season. However the Athletic will be in tight to make the playoffs in 2015, as the teams right behind them last season have made some significant upgrades.
10. Barrie Lakeshores
Barrie narrowly missed out on the playoffs last season with a roster that was much stronger then this seasons roster, with a number of key guys gone from last season Barrie will be in very tough to contend for a playoff spot in 2015. Gone from last seasons roster are T.J Sanders, Kyle Whitlow and Austin Lane, who where the Lakeshores 3rd, 4th and 6th leading point scorers in 2014. While Barrie’s depth is seriously in question this season, they do boast some high end offensive talent in Daniel Craig, Austin Murphy and Spencer Pyke. If the three offensive studs are able to produce a potent pace, the Lakeshores may be able to out score some teams who struggle offensively. In goal the Lakeshores are going with two new tendys, as they acquired Zach Rex from the Mimico Mountaineers and rookie Ethan Woods has cracked the squad. With a questionable defensive unit, and two unproven goaltenders, the Lakeshores are going to need to score a lot of goals to stay competitive in games, and I just don’t see that being realistic this season. Barrie will win a couple games, but there biggest impact on the league this season will be where they trade Daniel Craig at the trade deadline.
11. Mimico Mountaineers
While the team is new, the players for the most part are the same players from the Mississauga Tomahawks team that went 0-20 last season, and for that reason I find it hard to believe the Mimico Mountaineers will find their ways out of the basement of the standings in 2015. The Mountaineers while not deep, or overly strong do possess some intriguing young talent, as Ryan Callaghan recorded 58 points last season and looks poised to add to that career year total this season. Riley Matthews whom the Mountaineers drafted in the OLA Jr. A draft this season spent the 2014 season the the Guelph Regals Junior B squad, where he finished second in scoring with 39 points in 19 games. Youngster Jonathon Donville also brings a ton of offensive skill to the table, as his 6 points in 2 games early on this season show hes ready to contribute at the Junior A level. Tanner Thomson who was acquired from the Toronto Beaches will give the Mountaineers a little depth offensively, as his 19 points in 11 games with the Beaches last season would have placed him fourth in Tomahawk scoring last season. Carter Cummings should improve on his 9 points in 12 games last season to give the Mountaineers one more option. Defensively Keegan Letourneau and Matt Clearwater will be the unquestioned leaders, while Jesse Legault looks to have the leg up on Riley Hutchcraft for the starting goaltenders job. Mimico is improved over last years Mississauga Tomahawks roster, however its not enough to get them out of the basement of the standings, although another 0-20 season is likely out of the question in 2015.