STEPHEN LEITHWOOD/Niagara This Week
As Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Strome make their annual trip to lace up for Team Canada, the Niagara IceDogs have carried on without their superstars.
Hamilton, Strome and right winger Brett Ritchie were named to Canada’s national junior squad for the 2013 World Junior Championship.
The tournament begins on Wednesday and runs until Jan. 5 in Russia.
Hamilton and Strome won a bronze medal with Canada last year at the World Juniors in Calgary, while this is Ritchie’s first time on the big stage.
“It was a foregone conclusion that Stromer and Dougie would be part of the World Junior team,” said IceDogs general manager and head coach Marty Williamson. “For Ritchie to pick up his game and how consistent he’s been, we’re awfully proud of him. It’s a real special moment for him to join those guys as they head off to Russia.”
Ritchie is enjoying a career season and has already surpassed the 41 points he posted during the season he was drafted by the Dallas Stars in 2011.
The Orangeville native is second on the IceDogs in scoring with 27 goals and 50 points in just 32 games.
“Brett’s playing his role. He’s a power forward and he’s protecting the puck,” added Williamson. “One of the things Brett struggled with was consistency. He showed flashes of being that kind of player, but this year he’s been one of our most consistent players and the goals are starting to come.”
An appointment to Team Canada means the IceDogs could be without their top scorers — Strome leads the Ontario Hockey League in scoring with 22 goals and 62 points in 32 games — for a total of nine games.
Niagara currently sits tied for third in the Eastern Conference with a record of 20-13-1-1, however the Mississauga Steelheads and Brampton Battalion are nipping at their heels.
“One of the things we told the team when they left was how great those three are, but don’t let them define us,” said Williamson. “Let’s define ourselves through this stretch of games by being a hard-working team.”
In their first game without the star-studded trio, the IceDogs fell 4-2 at home to the lowly Erie Otters on Dec. 13.
Niagara bounced back by narrowly defeating the Sudbury Wolves 3-2 before taking their lumps in a 7-1 loss to the Battalion.
During this stretch forward Mitchell Theoret, a New York Islanders prospect, has stepped up to the plate with a goal in each game. In the match against Sudbury, Theoret netted the game winner and also added an assist.
“In the beginning we thought some of our younger guys were going to play more, but we didn’t know that Dougie and Strome were going to be here,” said Williamson. “Now it’s their opportunity to get us some victories.”