QUEBEC — Cole Cassels has been the man in the spotlight for the Oshawa Generals.
The versatile centre took most of the important faceoffs as the Generals beat the Quebec-champion Rimouski Oceanic and host Quebec Remparts in their opening two games at the Mastercard Memorial Cup.
Perhaps the biggest so far came late in overtime against the Remparts. Cassels’ draw back to defenceman Stephen Desrocher for the winning goal gave Oshawa a 5-4 win in a game it dominated but was in danger of losing thanks to Zach Fucale’s brilliance in the Quebec net.
The two had combined on a similar goal in a 4-3 win over Rimouski.
“We knew Steve has a great shot and he gets it off quick,” Cassels said Monday. “It worked out twice for us.”
The 20-year-old Cassels, a Vancouver Canucks prospect whose father, Andrew, is a former NHL centre, is playing his best at the right time for the Generals.
Linemates Bradley Latour and hulking Calgary Flames prospect Hunter Smith, as well as top defence pair of Josh Brown and Dakota Mermis, got much of the credit for limiting the damage from projected first overall draft pick Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League final.
Coach D.J. Smith has the luxury of having two faceoff aces, Cassels and Montreal Canadiens first-round pick Michael McCarron, and decides before each game which one to match against the opponent’s top centre.
“A lot of winning faceoffs is digging in and battling, and he battles all the way through the draw,” Smith said of the six-foot-one 190-pound Cassels.
His offensive numbers have climbed in each of his four OHL seasons, all with Oshawa. This year he had 30 goals and 81 points in 54 games. Smith’s strong defensive game as well as being a right-hand shot has Smith seeing Cassels as a second-line NHL centre, third-line at worst.
Cassels isn’t looking that far ahead just yet.
“It’s a process to get to the NHL,” he said. “It’s a big step, but right now I’m just focused on the Memorial Cup.”
Cassels said his father gave him many pointers on faceoffs, but mostly he picked up the skill by working with former Generals players Boone Jenner and Scott Laughton.
He is not the only General with a hockey father. Back-up goalie Jeremy Brodeur’s father, Martin, is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and the NHL’s all-time leader in wins. Defenceman Stephen Templeton is the grandson of legendary OHL coach Bert Templeton.
Andrew Cassels, an OHL most valuable player with the Ottawa 67s, was first round pick by Montreal in 1987 and also played in Hartford, where Cole was born, Calgary, Vancouver, Columbus and Washington.
In 16 NHL seasons, he had 204 goals and 732 points.
Cole Cassels was picked 85th overall by Vancouver in 2013. He would do well to match his father, but for now just wants to finish his junior career with a bang.
“I would love to go out a champion,” he said.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press