2023-2024 Oakville Blades Season Recap

OAKVILLE, ON - MAY 15: Tye Evans #15 of the Melfort Mustangs at the face off with Sean Clarke #11 of the Oakville Blades during the first period at the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex on May 15, 2024 in Ontario, Canada (Photo by Tim Bates / OJHL Images)

By Ty Brooks

The 2023–2024 OJHL and CJHL hockey seasons have come to an end, and that means that we won’t see Blades hockey until September of 2024. It was a very eventful year in Oakville, and we saw lots of change, mostly for the better, this year compared to the last. Let’s recap the 2023–2024 season of the Oakville Blades Junior A Hockey Club.

 

The team started off the season on September 8th, 2023, at the Central Arena in Burlington for the always-popular season opener against the rival Cougars. This was the first look at some big offseason acquisitions that were made, including names that have grown familiar to us like Eric Bonsteel, Sean Clarke, Max Donohoe, and Cormick Smallegange. Everyone knew it was the Centennial Cup year and that Oakville was trying to make a push to be as strong as possible at the tournament.

 

The team started playing really well right out of the gate but slowed down a little as 2023 was coming to an end. Some notable names came into the revolving door of players to begin the 2024 portion of the season, including Kenny Belanger, Kyle Kussmann, and Noah Tyrrell, just before the trade deadline in January to bolster this lineup. The team would unfortunately go on to have a lacklustre month in the new year and into early February before they started going on their crazy end-of-season run. The team won its last eight games, spanning from February 19th to March 3rd, taking down plenty of strong OJHL teams like the Leamington Flyers and Milton Menace in that span.

 

Here’s a month-by-month breakdown of the Blades play:

 

Regular Season:

September 4-2-1

October 6-3

November 4-3

December 4-3-1-1 (Tie vs. Leamington on December 7th)

January 4-6

February 7-4-1

March 3-0

 

Much of the run at the end can be attributed to the new additions finding their footing with the team as the group began to gel together and tighten up their game for a long run of playoff hockey. Speaking of playoff hockey, the Blades played a good amount of it this year, especially when you compare it to the last season, where they played none.

 

The first series was played against the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, of which we had a quick preview as it was also the last regular season game of the year, and it was a good series for Blades fans. The Blades took a quick 3-0 series lead, which included two wins at home by a score of 6-2 and 4-0. They would then drop two extremely close one-goal games to Buffalo before decimating them 6-1 in Game 6 to take the series. Lots of veteran players showed off their playoff poise to guide this team through to the next round.

 

The festivities were cut short, though, as the team knew they’d have to take on the reigning OJHL champion Collingwood Blues in the second round. Oakville, however, was the only team to beat the Blues squad twice in regulation during the regular season, so they knew they could be a threat. Oakville and Collingwood played two very close games, of which Collingwood won both, before the Blues exploded for a 10-1 victory while the Blades had a flu bug run through the team. This brought the series to 3-0 in favour of Collingwood. Oakville responded immediately with a strong 5-3 win in their own rink before being eliminated in Game 5. Taking a win over the Blues was a feat only accomplished by one other team, and it was in the OJHL finals after the Blues swept their round 3 matchup convincingly.

 

And then there was a big pause while the team rested and healed as much as possible before they played in the Centennial Cup tournament. As the host team, they knew they had a spot in the tournament and did not need to win their respective league like the rest of the teams did. Knowing the tournament was happening May 9th–19th, the Oakville Blades players and staff spent all of the month of April gearing up for what would be the most important hockey games the team would play all year.

 

Then the tournament came around, and the team was guaranteed to play four games in their group and more if they made it past the group stage. The teams that Oakville matched up against in Group B were all champions of their respective leagues. Those teams were the Miramichi Timberwolves (Maritime Hockey League), Sioux Lookout Bombers (Superior International Junior Hockey League), Winkler Flyers (Manitoba Junior Hockey League), and the Melfort Mustangs (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League).

 

Unfortunately, after a rough first game, the Blades never truly picked back up to that OJHL playoff pace. The team went 1-3, with their only win coming against the Sioux Lookout Bombers, who went winless in this tournament.

 

The scores from the tournament:

 

May 10th vs. Miramichi Timberwolves, 7-4L

May 11th vs. Sioux Lookout Bombers, 5-2W

May 13th vs. Winkler Flyers, 4-0L

May 15th vs. Melfort Mustangs, 3-1L

 

The final game of the Centennial Cup tournament took place between the SJHL Melfort Mustangs and the OJHL Collingwood Blues on May 19th. The Collingwood Blues won by a score of 1-0 in a game that was nationally broadcast on TSN and were crowned 2024 Centennial Cup Champions.

 

It was a bittersweet moment to see such close rivals and the team that had eliminated the Blades from the OJHL playoffs go on to win the tournament, which took place on the Blades home ice. It was, however, nice to see Centennial Cup glory go to a local Ontario team and stake the OJHL as the top CJHL league in the 2023–2024 season.

As the Blades played their final game and the tournament ended, it was difficult to watch the final game for many 20-year-old players on all teams, but especially for our Blades. There were a number of players in Oakville that took a few extra minutes after the game against Melfort to cherish their last moments with their teammates and family as junior hockey players. We’ll definitely miss these guys, but in many cases, they’re going on to further their educational and hockey careers at higher levels of hockey.

 

Here’s a list of everyone who has played their last game as a junior hockey player and where they’re headed next:

  • Noah Tyrrell (University of Wisconsin-Stout, NCAA D3)

  • Aidan Taylor (SUNY-Brockport, NCAA DIII)

  • Jeriah Shantz, “A”

  • Max Donohoe, “A”

  • Dawson Doner (SUNY-Fredonia, NCAA DIII)

  • Sean Clarke, “C” (University of Toronto, USports)

  • Eric Bonsteel, “A” (University of Guelph, USports)

  • Gavin McCarthy “C” (SUNY-Oswego, NCAA D3)

 

It is a shame to see them go, but it is nice to see that many of them will be furthering their hockey careers in the coming years.

 

With everything now said and done, there’s no more hockey left to play. Sure, we all would have liked to have seen the team push further in both the OJHL and CJHL playoffs, but they did their best in the given circumstances and really brought enjoyable hockey to the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex this year. Now we must only be grateful for the feats our team was able to accomplish and look forward to another great year of hockey along the Sixteen Mile Creek! Ladies and gentlemen, that’s a wrap for the season.

 

Now for the last time in the 2023-2024 season…

 

Go Blades Go!