End of an Era in Saint John

The Acadia Grizzly Bears have traded center Ryan O'Reilly at this year's deadline.
by Marcel Cormier | April 1, 2024, 3:02 AM ET

"I really didn't think I was going to do it, even earlier today, and then it happened. I'll be honest, I feel a little shell-shocked right now."

That was Acadia GM Guy Flaming moments ago as he addressed media after the SICHL trade deadline had been crossed. The Bears only made one deal on the final day as they acquired forward Daniel Sprong, prospect defenceman Jeremy Hanzel and the 1st round pick of the Whitehorse Huskies in 2025 from the Boston Colonials. Headed to Beantown in the deal is center Ryan O'Reilly who has been a crucial piece of the puzzle in Saint John since he was drafted 33rd overall back in 2009.

O'Reilly has appeared in 1096 regular season SICHL games with another 140 postseason outings - all of them with Acadia. He is a 3-time SICHL Continental Cup champion and is 2nd on Acadia's all-time list in nearly every category.

"Having that conversation with Ryan was probably the hardest one I've ever had," said Flaming, "I've made some difficult trades in the past but I don't think one comes close to this. I feel a little ill."

O'Reilly is a pending unrestricted free agent and with the Bears already announcing their intention to hand Chris Kreider the Franchise Player tag for 2024-25, the team was faced with keeping their roster as is but losing him for nothing in the off season, or listening to offers. Up until yesterday, Flaming said it looked like it would be status quo. 

"I'd had talks with one team for over a month, maybe two months, but in the end they didn't want to part with the young player that we'd asked for so we had resigned ourselves to going into the playoffs as we were; underdogs but capable of being a threat," Flaming said, "Then Boston called and expressed interest. We threw some names at them, they replied with some others but also included a 1st round pick which we didn't have on the table from the original partner. From there we settled on a player and a prospect, swallowed hard and made the deal."

O'Reilly was not immediately available for comment as he was immediately on a flight to join the Colonials.

The SICHL player Acadia received in the swap is Dutch-born Daniel Sprong who spent his junior career in the QMJHL with the Charlottetown Islanders and was taken 24th overall in 2015 by Boston. To date, Sprong has played 347 SICHL games and has 56 goals and 141 points.

"We think Daniel can slot into our middle 6, probably on the right side on our 3rd line for now," said head coach Dave Hakstol, "With Noah Cates out for a couple more weeks, we'll probably move some guys around to find what works. Long term we'll look at Shane Pinto or Jack Drury for that #2 center role but I think we'll see how Cates looks there for now, once he's back healthy."

Acadia also acquired the rights to Seattle Thunderbirds defenceman Jeremy Hanzel, a 19-year-old that was drafted by Boston in the 4th round of 2023. 

"We had Jeremy our our list too but Gary got to him first," Flaming added, "We liked what we saw of his maturity and skill set as the T-Birds won the WHL title in 2023. He'll spend the next 2-3 years in our farm system and we'll go from there."

It's safe to say that the 1st round pick in 2025 is the most valuable piece coming to Acadia as the Bears currently do not have a 1st rounder in 2024 so adding a second one for the year after was too hard to pass up.  

"Hopefully with that pick we can find the next Ryan O'Reilly."

Acadia made one other trade prior to the deadline but it occured almost two weeks ago. The Bears packaged forward Tyson Jost with prospect netminder Mason Beaupit with a pair of late picks in order to send them to Dublin in exchange for 25-year-old Swedish prospect goaltender Filip Larsson, injured prospect forward Cade Littler and two not-as-late draft picks. 

Jost played sparingly for Acadia this past season and appeared as though he would lose his spot on next year's SICHL roster.

"It was too bad for Tyson, it seems like he's got all the hockey sense and skills in the world but unfortunately he couldn't take that next step. It was time for him to move on and he'll get a better opportunity to play in Dublin," said Flaming. "We've kept tabs on Larsson since his days playing for the Denver Pioneers. I'll be honest, I don't know if he will even come over from Sweden because he's playing at home and playing well. But if he does come over..."

"Cade Littler is a big center that will be going to North Dakota next season," said Flaming, "He was a late round pick but as his father Bliss Littler (the GM of the WHL's Wenatchee Wild) told me, Cade needs a longer runway and he's getting that by spending a long time playing junior A. He sustained an upper body injury in late February and we don't think we'll see him back in time for the BCHL playoffs but you never know. He started the year in the USHL then went back to the BCHL, but to Penticton. It's been a bit here and there for him the last few years so I think some stability at UND will be good for him." 

Bear Tracks

  • Acadia will be represented at the 2024 Frozen Four by four different prospects. Ethan Edwards (Michigan), Gavin McCarthy (Boston University) and Rieger Lorenz and Shai Buium (Denver). 
  • Goaltender Dominic Basse has entered the NCAA transfer portal in hopes of finishing his collegiate career with a new program. He spent the first two seasons with Colorado College followed by two more with St. Cloud State. Because of the pandemic, affected players have a 5th year of eligibility so the 6'6 netminder will be off to his third program. 
  • Also in the portal is 2020 third round draftee Blake Biondi who has played four seasons for Minnesota-Duluth. 
  • The Bears have nine players on teams that qualified for their respective CHL playoffs including Koehn Ziemmer (2nd, 2023) on the CHL's #1 ranked team, the Prince George Cougars. 
  • Saskatoon Blades sniper Yegor Sidorov (3rd, 2023) ended the year with 50 goals to his credit scoring the last one in the late stages of the last regular season game of the campaign. 
  • Forward Conner Roulette (4th, 2021) led all Acadia prospects in CHL scoring with a massive 108-point season with the Spokane Chiefs. 

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