It had been a decade since the Jr. A Pickering Panthers had been contenders in OJHL play; until their epic turnaround this past season. Pickering native Dave Demarinis arrived early in 2016 as an assistant coach, but he quickly climbed the ranks to become both head honcho on the bench and in the front office. As both head coach and general manager, Demarinis has his fingerprints all over his hometown team’s 2017-2018 turnaround – though you wouldn’t know it from talking to him.
In talking to Coach Demarinis you get the impression that he’s certainly no dictator but someone who deflects praise and welcomes input from all sides because he’s surrounded himself with down-to-earth and knowledgeable people both on the bench and in the front office. Obviously though, most of his praise goes to his Pickering players and the work they’ve done in bringing the Panthers back to relevance in the OJHL after a decade on the fringes.
The Panthers were led this season by captain Josh Argier, whom Coach Demarinis called their most important offseason acquisition. You can understand why, considering the Whitby-native led Pickering with 55 points this season. Star goalie Ethan Langevin (who was selected to the OJHL All-Prospects Team) was also integral to the Panthers’ turnaround this season, posting a 2.53 goals against average and a .914 save percentage with two shutouts. Coach Demarinis even thinks the kid could play pro, and he should know, he used to be a goalie himself. No matter how skeptical you may be; Demarinis might not be that far off in reality, as Langevin was drafted to the OHL by the Sarnia Sting.
Other key cogs included a pair of big-bodied blue-liners that anchored the team all season; when they could stay in the lineup that is. Dustyn McFaul (who was also selected to the OJHL All-Prospects Team) showed great promise this season and his importance to the success of the team showed when he was sidelined due to injuries and suspension during the season. “He was our rock”, said Coach Demarinis of McFaul, “I honestly think he’ll be the best defenceman in the league next season.”
The other key blue-liner, 6’0, 205 pound Joseph Franzin, was an offensive juggernaut, running the power play for the Panthers and cashing in with 44 points on the season, good for fifth best among all defenders in the OJHL. Not having Franzin due to injury during the Panthers’ exhilarating seven-game series against the Wellington Dukes was surely a factor in the outcome of the back-and-forth showdown.
Though the Dukes swept the Panthers in the four-game regular season series, every game was decided by one goal, and two went to overtime – a trend that would continue in their first round playoff series. With their backs against the wall, down 3-2 in the series to second place Wellington, the Panthers hosted the Dukes for Game 6 at the Den in Pickering in front of a rowdy crowd 800+ strong. In most other years over the past decade, the Panthers would’ve been lucky to get a crowd in triple digits, but Demarinis says that with their success this season, these kids have “changed the perception of Pickering. We were one of the powerhouse teams back in the day, over the last decade it’s been thrown under the rug. These kids brought it back, they made people pay attention.”
With their raucous home crowd behind them, the scrappy Panthers scored their second OT win of the series to push it to a deciding Game 7. Though they were unable to finish the job losing 6-2 to the Dukes in the deciding game, the gritty OT wins against the second-ranked team in the OJHL’s North-West Conference will “pay big dividends down the road,” according to Coach Demarinis.
Pickering went from doormat to contender in just one season. In the process validating their team motto for the 2017-2018 season: make Pickering a #PlaceToPlay. With the individual success of prospects such as Argier and Langevin as well as the exciting success of the team last season, I’d say Demarinis and the boys certainly made Pickering a place kids will want to play in the coming seasons. Look out for the Panthers in 2018-2019.