A trade leaves little time to say goodbye. Almost to a man, major junior players who get moved as the trade deadline nears fire off a thank-you tweet or Instagram post – sincere but inherently remote, like all of social media. Then they show up in another rink, another uniform.
Last week, when OHL goal-scoring leader Aaron Luchuk was sent from the Windsor Spitfires to the Barrie Colts, the overage centre sensed that that would be insufficient. Refreshingly, the 20-year-old who scored the MasterCard Memorial Cup-winning goal for the Spitfires on May 29 took the time to offer a reminder that, as transactional in nature as the CHL is, there is still some sense of a deep connection. That was plain as day as Luchuk, standing in a snowy street, made a farewell video.
“I asked our media guy (Dave Ducharme) if I could do a video just because of how much the city of Windsor means to me – the organization, the Spitfires,” said Luchuk, who was the captain of the Spitfires and is second in OHL scoring with 56 points, including a league-most 31 goals. “I just didn’t want to have a posted quote. It felt like a more appropriate way to say bye. I consider Windsor home how, probably for the rest of my life. It was a tough day when I found out I was getting traded. I just felt like it was appropriate to give that farewell to the city.
“You hear stories from guys who have been traded in their careers, but until you experience it like I am you really cannot prepare for it.”
VIDEO: He spent four-plus years as a Spitfire, was our captain, and scored one of the biggest goals in franchise history – the GWG in last year's Memorial Cup final. We talked to an emotional @ALuchuk91 before he left for Barrie this morning. pic.twitter.com/vzFTBkJe9n
— Windsor Spitfires (@SpitsHockey) December 14, 2017
There is no knowing what causes any video to go viral. At a time of year when dozens of players are on the move in all three CHL circuits, it was a reminder that while a four- to five-year major junior stint seems short, it comprises more than 20 per cent of a 20-year-old athlete’s life.
“Sometimes I catch my reflection in the glass and see myself wearing a Barrie jersey,” said Luchuk. “It’s a weird concept, being so used to being in a Windsor, being a Spitfire, but it’s my new normal and I’ll continue to get used to it.”
The Spitfires, coming off of their Memorial Cup triumph, are in the position of needing to recoup assets. Barrie (.652 point percentage, second in the Eastern Conference) gained a linemate for the Russian duo of top NHL draft prospect Andrei Svechnikov and 18-year-old Alexei Lipanov. Luchuk’s new line combined for 12 points during three Barrie wins last weekend.
Luchuk, who’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 184 pounds, had a look-see from the Vancouver Canucks at both their summer development camp and a prospects tournament. Joining Barrie means the Kingston, Ont., native is joining an organization which has accounted for two of the last three winners of the OHL’s overage of player of the year award.
“They have a really good track record here with older guys,” Luchuk said. “Dale (Hawerchuk, Barrie’s head coach) has been really helpful with me these first few games, getting me acclimated to a new environment with Barrie. I’ve talked to a lot of guys in the last few days about Barrie and they’ve all said they do a good job with developing players and I’m looking forward to growing as a player.”
’Hounds streaking toward history book
The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds will lose a game again, but a peek at the schedule shows their 20-win streak won’t end in the same fashion as the last two elongated victory skeins in the OHL.
The ’Hounds, led up front by Morgan Frost (PHI) while Boris Katchouk (TB) and Conor Timmins (COL) are on Team Canada duty, are just the fourth OHL team to have a 20-win streak. The next teams to chase down on the list are the 2009-10 Colts (22 in a row), 2012-13 London Knights (24) and the record-holding 1983-84 Kitchener Rangers (25). In 2004-05, prior to the OHL adopting the shootout, London had a 31-game unbeaten streak to start the season, winning 18 in a row at one point before being held to a tie.
It is only human nature for Rangers fans to be protective of the 1984 team’s feat; it’s endured for three-plus decades and came before the OHL had regular-season overtime, never mind the shootout.
— Josh Brown (@BrownRecord) December 17, 2017
The 1983-84 Kitchener Rangers won 25 straight games, all in regulation. Some will say that supersedes this Soo streak. I disagree. #OHL
— Mike Farwell (@farwell_ohl) December 17, 2017
I’ll concede OT wins in a streak but I can’t get there with shootouts. Sorry, but that’s a tie at best. I can’t count the gimmick. #OHL
— Mike Farwell (@farwell_ohl) December 17, 2017
For my money, this Soo streak is the 2nd best ever (20 games), followed by Owen Sound in 2016-17 (15 games). Shootouts can’t count. #OHL
— Mike Farwell (@farwell_ohl) December 17, 2017
Both Barrie in 2009 and London in 2012 kept their streaks going with help of the breakaway contest. The 15th win of London’s 2012-13 streak came in a bat-around 19-round shootout that involved every skater.
The ’Hounds, at least so far, do not have the shootout stigma. Wins Nos. 2, 5, 7 and 13 were sealed with goals during 3-on-3 overtime, with two of the deciders coming in the final 40 seconds. This bid for Kitchener’s 33-year-old record doesn’t come with an asterisk. The ’84 Rangers also had their run from mid-January to mid-March, meaning they weren’t left short-staffed by the world juniors.
Those two more recent streaks, like Sault Ste. Marie’s, also ran through the holiday break. The ’12-13 Knights’ run was snapped during a New Year’s Day game against the Sarnia Sting. Three seasons prior, Barrie’s bid for the mark ended with a loss against Owen Sound on New Year’s Eve.
One can imagine that focus is harder to come by when playing on a holiday. The Greyhounds have a four-day break over New Year’s, so that distraction won’t crop up.
The Quebec League always seems to have the most frantic-seeming trade deadline, since it is packed into the week before Christmas and week-to-10 day period afterward.
Over the weekend, word trickled out about who’s headed elsewhere. Among others, 19-year-old goalie Mikhail Denisov will go from worst to first, coming to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada from the Shawinigan Cataractes. The Rimouski Océanic, who are second overall in point percentage, have lined up Mathieu Nadeau, an overage centre who was the leading scorer in Val-d’Or.
Derek Gentile, an 18-year-old forward who’s a near point-a-game scorer, could also be on the move from the Quebec Remparts. Quebec’s influx could include 19-year-old forward Pascal Laberge (PHI), whose production has dipped since his NHL draft year two seasons ago.
Mikhail Denisov échangé à l'Armada en retour d'un R3 et d'un autre choix conditionnel lié à sa performance. #Cataractes
— steve turcotte (@steveturcotte) December 16, 2017
Pascal Laberge va passer des Tigres aux Remparts en retour de choix de 2ème et 3ème tours. #tvasports
— Mikaël Lalancette (@MLalancetteTVA) December 16, 2017
— Le Soleil (@cyblesoleil) December 17, 2017
L’Océanic va chercher de l’expérience en attaque. Les Foreurs transigeront le défenseur Tyler Higgins et l’attaquant Mathieu Nadeau et un choix de 5e tour à Rimouski contre Karl Boudrias et des choix de 3ème et 4ème tours. #tvasports
— Mikaël Lalancette (@MLalancetteTVA) December 17, 2017
The tight top half of the standings – try a mere six-point gap between first and ninth overall – could increase the temptation for general managers to not leave their lineups alone. In terms of volume, it will be tough for the QMJHL to top 2016-17, when 82 players (not all rostered at the time) were moved during the trade period.
Canadian NHL Team Prospect of the Week: Kirill Maksimov, RW, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Maksimov, an Edmonton Oilers fifth-round choice (No. 146 in 2017) finished the first half with a hot hand for the IceDogs, with five goals in six games and 12 in 14 dating from mid-November. Oftentimes with 18-year-old drafted forwards, it can take several weeks to unburden oneself of lofty expectations and recapture a goal-scorer’s jauntiness, and the 6-foot-2, 193-pound Maksimov appears to have done that to help Niagara keep dog-paddling through choppy waters in the OHL’s more-competitive-than-usual Eastern Conference. The IceDogs are in fourth place in the conference while having scored the second-fewest goals, so Maksimov’s 20 goals and 34 points across 30 games have been vital to their success.
At the outset of the season, long-time prospect watcher Brock Otten of OHL Prospects pegged Maksimov as a potential 35-goal scorer. He’s currently ahead of that pace.
New name to know: Alex Kannok Leipert, D, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
The Giants have a ballyhooed rookie blueliner, 16-year-old Bowen Byram, who was a No. 3 overall pick, so the impulse is to talk up the other rookie on their back end. The 17-year-old Kannok Leipert has imbued the Giants’ back end with some mature-beyond-his-years savvy, helping Vancouver climb the ladder in the WHL Western Conference.
A Regina native and one-time fourth-round choice in the bantam draft, Kannok Leipert took advantage of an extra season in midget, serving as captain for the Regina Pat Canadians, who won went to the semifinals of the national midget championship.
While modestly sized at 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds, Kannok Leipert has adapted well to the WHL, putting up 15 points (1G-14A) in 35 games.
All of that is more subtle than scoring a Teddy Bear Toss goal, of course. Who performed that honour for Vancouver on Sunday? Byram, of course.
— Vancouver Giants (@WHLGiants) December 18, 2017