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Grandparents, fans and resilience highlight Frontenacs opening weekend

Dan McMillan stands alone in the second period behind the Ottawa 67’s goal. Hands rested upon the bar rail, he is only looking for one person: his grandson, Shane Wright.

As the October sun kissed Kingston’s shores, McMillan was not enjoying the fall weather. Instead, he drove 4.5 hours on Highway 407 from Belmont, Ontario, to take in his grandson’s first Ontario Hockey League game since March 2020.

With 2,799 fans in the stands at the Leon’s Centre on Friday, regular season hockey returned to the shores of Lake Ontario for the 2021-22 season, one that could be a magical year for the Frontenacs. After winning 8-1 on opening day against Ottawa, it looked as though everything was off to a smooth start.

 

Photo by Robert John Boucher

 

Friday and all of the opening weekend was special for many, whether a young kid taking in their first hockey game, long-time fans who had been without their sporting staple for nearly two years, or even family members seeing their loved ones lace up the skates for the first time this season.

“It means the world to me; he is such an important person and figure in my life,” said Wright about McMillan, his grandfather after the Fronts’ opening win. “He’s someone I’ve grown up around, and I love him so much. All he does for me, he’s my biggest fan, biggest supporter, and I am super appreciative for everything he does.”

With eight goals, a dominant performance, and an exciting lineup, season-opening night will be one Frontenacs fans remember for a long time. Although the rest of the weekend did not go to plan with losses against Mississauga and Ottawa, Saturday was the first night that allowed 100 percent capacity, hinting at a future rocking atmosphere at the Leon’s Centre.

 

Photo by Robert John Boucher

 

In the season ahead of the 2022 NHL Draft, there are more eyes on Wright than ever before. But, despite the thousands of scouts and keen-eyed hockey fans across the world, the gaze of his grandfather’s eyes matters most.

McMillan switches ends each period, ensuring that he always is watching at whichever side the Fronts and Wright are attacking. On Friday, he saw his 17-year-old grandson score a blistering wrist shot and add two assists.

Standing in his usual spot, McMillan looked longingly upon the ice on Saturday night, as the Frontenacs went 0/7 on the powerplay and the Steelheads held Wright off the scoresheet. Yet, while the script flipped from the night before, McMillan and fellow Fronts fans cheered the team until the final buzzer.

On an overcast day outside and a dampened night in the rink, Francesco Arcuri stood out among the rest, showing determination despite the game sitting at a long-lost 7-0. The Dallas Stars prospect scored a goal and added an assist in the third period, giving the Fronts a spark that may have put them in the game if they had found it a period earlier.

While the two late goals on Saturday were not enough to send the Frontenacs into the dressing room singing and dancing as they were following the season-opening win, it showed the team’s character, something they built on in Sunday’s matchup.

 

Photo by Robert John Boucher

 

Mitchell Brooks, the 34th overall pick in the 2021 OHL Priority Selection, made his debut for the Frontenacs against Mississauga, adding to the list of players that suited up in their first OHL games over the weekend, a group that includes assistant captain Lucas Edmonds.

Still, despite the Frontenacs coming out of their second game on the wrong side and Wright being held off the scoresheet, McMillan stood behind the goal each period, hoping to catch a glimpse of magic that so often comes off his grandson’s stick.

Hitting the road for their first game of the year, the Frontenacs took on the 67’s in a much different matchup. Rather than the excitement of a home opener fuelling the black and gold, they faced a 67’s team buoyed by their raucous fans.

Although three games in three days is one of the most demanding tasks in junior hockey, the Frontenacs fought admirably for 60 minutes before eventually falling 3-2 in the Canadian capital. After a challenging night less than 24 hours earlier, the young group battled adversity, with Wright scoring from his knees and Leevi Meriläinen standing strong between the pipes after making way for Aiden Spooner the night before.

Living in Belmont, McMillan could not travel to Ottawa for Sunday’s thanksgiving matchup against the 67’s. Despite that, he will be sure to visit Kingston and other nearby OHL arenas throughout the year, taking in a massive year for the Frontenacs and Wright.

It may not have been the perfect start that the Frontenacs were hoping for, but there was a unique buzz that returned to the Leon’s Centre over two evenings. No longer an empty venue, no longer 1000 fans at preseason games, but full competition in front of nearly 3,000, marking another step closer to normality.

 

Photo by Robert John Boucher

 

Head coach, Luca Caputi’s team, can now look at the last weekend while eyeing Friday, October 15,  when the Frontenacs host the Sudbury Wolves and honour frontline healthcare workers in front what could be the first full-capacity sell out since 2019-20.

Whatever the score, wherever the arena, Dan McMillan and several Frontenacs fans believe that something can happen. While McMillan may not be at every game, the belief is still there, and after this weekend, the Frontenacs know they can battle until the final buzzer, even under challenging situations.

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