Too bad for Ben Garagan that Zach Roy is such a good goalie – if Roy could have just let in one more goal on Saturday, Garagan would have had his second GWG in a week.
Garagan scored the third goal in a 4-1 win, but he’ll take it. His first game-winner came six days earlier during Roy’s first OHL start for the Hamilton Bulldogs, a 5-2 road win in Windsor.
A North Bay goaltender wins an OHL game and a North Bay player scores the winner – when’s the last time that happened? In fact, when was the last time four North Bay products suited up together in the OHL?
This year’s Hamilton Bulldogs boast four players – forwards Garagan and Dylan D’Agostino, defenceman Jake Gravelle from Callander and goaltender Roy, also from Callander – who came up through the North Bay hockey system.
Four Gateway City players in the same OHL lineup hasn’t happened in more than 30 years. You have to go back to the 1986-87 season, when the North Bay Centennials had five home-grown players in the lineup as regulars (Darren Turcotte, Brent Bywater, Mike Gillies, Shawn Roy and Chad Gleason). Those guys were wearing Cooper-Alls with yellow XL7 helmets, with Nick Kypreos coming off a 62-goal season.
The situation makes for a unique experience for the four current Bulldogs, who are away from home living with billet families.
Garagan, 19, was the first to move to Hamilton, acquired from the Sudbury Wolves in a January 2017 trade. Gravelle, 18, was acquired in a January 2018 trade from the Mississauga Steelheads, who had drafted him in the 12th round in 2016. D’Agostino, 18, was drafted by the Bulldogs in the 10thround in 2016 and Roy was taken in the fourth round in 2017.
Gravelle, D’Agostino and Roy played most of their minor hockey together on young Trappers teams, one year behind Garagan, although D’Agostino moved up one year in minor peewee to play major peewee with Garagan.
“We’ve grown up in hockey together from the start, so sometimes it’s kind of funny,” Gravelle said after Saturday’s 4-1 win over Mississauga. “If I’m looking up the ice and I see (D’Agostino’s) face or if I’m going back to retrieve a puck from Zach, sometimes you chuckle, because you think back to our childhood and now we’re here and it’s the exact same thing.”
All four spent the summer skating together in North Bay with other local elite players – including defenceman Eric Mondoux, who impressed at Bulldogs training camp and is now playing in Hamilton for the Bulldogs’ junior ‘B’ affiliate coached by North Bay’s Ken Peroff – in preparation for the season.
“We skate together all summer and we’re all close buddies,” said Garagan, who won an OHL championship with the Bulldogs last season and played in the Memorial Cup. “I hang out with these guys all the time even in North Bay. It definitely helps to have them here, it feels a little more homey.”
Now in his third season in Hamilton, Garagan has more opportunity and greater expectations after putting in his time in a fourth-line role on last season’s championship club. He is a centre on the Bulldogs’ third line and looking to take advantage of more ice time.
“I think being an older guy now, it gives me a little more confidence,” he said. “I feel a bit more comfortable with my skill set and I want to start making things happen with the puck. We had a really good group last year. I was a third-year guy, but I still got to learn from everyone and I think I’ve brought that into this season.”
Bulldogs head coach Dave Matsos, who was with the team as an assistant last season, is comfortable with giving Garagan added responsibility.
“He’s got elusive speed,” Matsos said of the five-foot-11, 180-pounder. “It’s a game of confidence and right now, he’s playing like a confident player. And he should be. At 19 years old, the league should slow down for him. It’s whether he was going to seize the moment and take the minutes and make the most of them and he is doing that.”
Matsos also knew the opportunity was going to come for Gravelle, who got into one regular-season game last season with the Bulldogs, but was stuck behind a blue-line loaded with veterans for the playoff run.
“The coaches do a good job of reassuring you and going over video about things we can improve, but they also bring up a lot of good clips and they try to keep things positive, so I’m able to have the confidence to go out there and play my game,” said Gravelle, a five-foot-11, 185-pound mobile defender. “I’ve always been an offensive defencemen, so I’d like to bring some offence from the back end, but if I can be solid at both ends and be responsible, hopefully I can bring that.”
D’Agostino, a six-foot winger who graduated from the NOJHL’s Powassan Voodoos, had to wait his turn as a healthy scratch for the first few games this season. He made his debut on Saturday and was right back in the lineup on Sunday.
“In practice, I’m just giving it my best effort and showing the coaches what I got and hopefully, I can get in the lineup more often and prove myself,” he said. “The first few games were pretty frustrating having to sit out, but I knew that was to come. I know if I keep working hard and put my mind to it and keep focusing on the little things, I should be fine. I’m just trying to stay positive and focus on the little things.”
Aside from the four North Bay-bred Bulldogs, this year’s North Bay Battalion roster features local products Payton Vescio and Pacey Schlueting, while North Bay’s Brady Lyle is manning with the Owen Sound Attack blue-line.
Perhaps the return of OHL hockey to the city in 2013 is a factor, but having seven local players in the OHL would have been unheard of a decade ago.
“I guess it’s a great opportunity for players in North Bay, because it’s a small town and all these guys are getting a chance to play in the OHL, so it’s great to see,” D’Agostino said.