While John Tavares stands alone as the Ontario Hockey League’s career scoring leader, he might want to score a few more for good measure.
The fourth-year forward and projected first overall pick in this summer’s National Hockey League draft scored three times Sunday, beating the previous record of 213 career goals established by Peter Lee 33 years ago.
But questions were raised recently whether Tavares had, in fact, broken Lee’s record. The Ottawa 67’s, the team Lee starred for throughout his four-year career, had Lee’s final tallies listed at 216 goals.
Hockey historian Jim McAuley found a few discrepancies in the final stats the OHL listed. In Lee’s first full season in 1972-73, the league listed his goals total at 25 while McAuley’s research through newspaper accounts on a library’s microfiche suggests Lee scored 27 goals.
The following season, the league listed Lee’s goal total at 38, whereas McAuley’s research found 39 goals.
“I did notice in the second-last game he played (in 1973-74) he had 38 and then the next goal he scored they didn’t change the figure,” McAuley said.
When the season’s final stats were released, Lee’s total stood at 38 goals, not 39.
“I have no idea why the addition didn’t add up,” McAuley said. “I just speculated that it made sense to me they didn’t add that (39th) goal that he got in the last game to their final list.”
Assuming McAuley’s research is correct, Tavares trails Lee by one goal with two games left in his OHL career. Ironically, the league’s record book previously listed Lee’s goal total at 215, the same number Tavares has reached.
Upon reviewing the research, the league deemed Lee’s total was 213, making Tavares’ 215 goals the official record.
“The league was well aware of the fact there was a discrepancy between the record the Ottawa 67’s had and the record that was in the league official records,” said Jeff Hunt, 67’s owner and governor.
“The way I’ve explained it to people is that it’s like you had a goal called and now it’s under review,” Hunt added. “The evidence has to be sufficient to overturn the original call.”
The OHL’s director of administration, Herb Morell, addressed the issue, resulting in favour of the league’s records.
“They have newspaper accounts of it and we have no idea whether or not those are accurate,” Morell told Sportsnet.ca. “If you go through newspaper accounts today they may differ from final official statistics as well.
“Basically we are going with what was compiled by the league statistician.”
The league reviewed several hockey publications from the years in question, finding that Lee’s total of 213 never wavered.
“They matched the final statistics that we had on file from that era and that was what was published. It’s all consistent,” Morell said. “The difficult part here is whether or not there were changes reported to the league and not captured. I don’t want to get into that but obviously they weren’t reflected.”
It’s not uncommon for goals or assists to be changed upon further review now with all the modern equipment at each team’s disposal. But during Peter Lee’s heyday, technology was limited to the point where each game-sheet was mailed to the league office.
Game-sheets can now be found on the league site and are updated during the game while a hardcopy is also faxed to the league office.
“It was a different era,” Morell explains. “We did our research and we’re just staying consistent with what was compiled at that time.”
“It’s immaterial to me really whether Tavares holds the record or Peter Lee,” McAuley said. “I haven’t seen Peter Lee in years. It’s not like I’m trying to go to bat for him. I have the information that works out to 216.”
Of course, there’s one way to quiet the debate. With two games left in the London Knights’ schedule — they play Saginaw on Friday and Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday — Tavares could reach 217 and beyond.
“I think what’s maybe comforting, if I can put it that way, to me is that Tavares is now at 215 and by probably all realistic projections is going to break 216 anyway,” Hunt said. “Given the success of John Tavares, you have this conversation with me Sunday night and it probably won’t mean a lot.”