Comparisons to Sidney Crosby aren’t going to go away any time soon for Connor McDavid.
Like Crosby has been credited with doing in Pittsburgh, McDavid may have almost singlehandedly saved his junior franchise in Erie, Pa. The Canadian Hockey League’s poster boy not only put his Otters on the map upon being selected first overall in the Ontario Hockey League draft two years ago, but now could be credited with the biggest assist of his career with news that the Otters are staying in Pennsylvania.
Relocation rumours have been a yearly subject for the Otters well before McDavid became the face of the franchise. Even after McDavid was drafted and began playing for the Otters, rumours continued to swirl that he may only play one season in Erie before the franchise relocated to Hamilton.
That won’t be the case now that the Otters reached a new five-year lease with their building to remain in Erie. While team owner and general manager Sherry Bassin is still interested in selling the team – while hoping to either retain his role as GM or as a minority owner, according to the Erie Times-News’ Victor Fernandes – there’s little doubt the impact his star played in keeping the franchise in Erie.
Without Connor McDavid, and the resurgence his presence generated for the franchise, the Otters were likely sitting ducks in Erie. Make that now two Pennsylvania-based hockey franchises saved by their stars.
BLADES WIN LOTTERY, WHEAT KINGS PICK FIRST
The Brandon Wheat Kings will have a historic moment on May 1 thanks to the Saskatoon Blades.
The Blades won Wednesday’s draft lottery, meaning their East Division rivals will hold the first pick overall. Wheat Kings general manager Kelly McCrimmon secured the right to flip first-round picks with the Blades in 2014 after sending Brenden Walker, who would become the Blades’ captain last season, in a deal two years ago.
The power of foresight means the Wheat Kings will pick first in the WHL bantam draft for the first time in franchise history. The Wheat Kings picked as high as second overall on three separate occasions.
“Great for our organization,” McCrimmon told Brandon play-by-play man Bruce Luebke. “It’s a chance to select the player that we think is the best in his age group. You need to have a season where you finish last to be in this position and we’re fortunate from a previous trade that we had the right to flip picks. It’s going to be real nice for our staff in terms of our final selections, and obviously a really important day for the organization when you look at some of the young players that we already have. It gives us a chance to add a real premiere guy to that group.”
The Wheat Kings are assembling a rather potent future lineup after many declared them the victors of last year’s bantam draft. Brandon drafted forward Nolan Patrick fourth overall, then acquired the sixth pick in a trade with Lethbridge and used it to select the draft’s top defenceman, Kale Clague.
Earlier this season, the Wheat Kings added sophomore defender Ryan Pilon – the third overall pick from the 2011 draft – after he walked out on the Hurricanes to seek a trade. Add in the top player from this year’s draft, and the Wheat Kings have the core of a potential championship contender in two or three years.
The Hurricanes, who finished last in league standings, drew the second pick in the draft by virtue of losing the lottery to the Blades.
OPENING WEEKEND EXCITEMENT
From a line brawl between hated rivals to a player fracturing a finger blocking a shot to a player stealing a swig of water from an opponent’s bottle, the playoffs opened with a bang across the CHL.
The hatred between the Windsor Spitfires and London Knights spilled over midway through Game 2. With the Knights leading 5-0, Spitfires forward Cristiano DiGiancito engaged Gemel Smith behind the Knights net. The two jawed and bumped going back up the ice until DiGiancito set off the fireworks. Montreal Canadiens first round pick Michael McCarron jumped in to defend Smith, who appeared unwilling to fight.
Five game-misconducts were handed out – three to London, two to Windsor. Supplemental discipline hadn’t been announced as of Sunday night. Game 3 goes Tuesday in Windsor.
On a scarier note, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies forward Jason Fuchs fractured his left pinky finger after blocking a shot in his team’s 7-3 loss to the Quebec Remparts on Saturday. Players were reportedly looking on the ice for a possible fingertip following the stoppage.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League issued a release early Sunday evening stating that a medical team was able to close the wound after arriving at a hospital. He will be re-evaluated on Monday.
Brendan Leipsic took what has to be one of the strangest unsportsmanlike conduct penalty calls ever made. During a stoppage in play, Leipsic, a Portland Winterhawks forward, grabbed Vancouver Giants goaltender Payton Lee’s water bottle and took a swig. The Winterhawks lead the series 2-0.
GIANTS EYEING 2016 MASTERCARD MEMORIAL CUP
The Giants may not serve as much more than a speed bump for the defending champs, but they’re hoping the learning lessons will pay dividends in two years. Giants owner Ron Toigo hasn’t hid his desire to host the national championship when it’s next played in WHL territory in 2016. The Giants hosted and won the MasterCard Memorial Cup in 2007.
“In order to get the required 11 votes from the league governors to land a Memorial Cup date,” Toigo told the Vancouver Sun, “we have to convince them that as the host team we’ll be competitive enough to be considered a threat to win it. We’ve been building our roster of young talent through the draft these past couple of years with an eye set on 2016.”
Those odds will undoubtedly increase as last year’s first overall pick, Tyler Benson, begins realizing the hype in his rookie season.
– Kootenay Ice forward Tim Bozon’s status improved last week as he was removed from the Intensive Care Unit of a Saskatoon hospital. His parents said he is awake as of Wednesday, trying to feed himself and speak.
– Sam Cosentino released his monthly Top 10 CHL prospects, this time featuring those from the OHL.
– The OHL’s Western Conference can steal a term coined by soccer’s World Cup as the “Group of Death,” writes Gare Joyce.
– The Saskatoon Blades underwent exit meetings without their head coach last week. Dave Struch’s contract expires this summer and was planning on meeting with new owner Mike Priestner on Friday.
– Just how special was Val-d’Or defenceman Guillaume Gauthier’s 92 points this season? They rank him seventh all time in QMJHL history.