OHL Notebook: Windsor gets Memorial Cup; Steelheads’ Boyd moves upstairs

Windsor Spitfires GM and owner Warren Rychel joined Hockey Central @ Noon to talk about his team hosting next year’s Memorial Cup and how he feels his team is trending.

It is kind of kismet Windsor is celebrating the Spitfires landing the MasterCard Memorial Cup while there might be more emphasis on what is happening with the next one. After all, the fate of the 100th anniversary tournament in 2018 is more fascinating than a Cup that had only one publicly known bidder.

The Spitfires were not just handed next year’s tournament. Saying that does disservice to the people behind the outlay in time and money that was poured into winning approval from the selection committee. The fact remains, though, that the entire time line reads like political satire. The Spitfires had to go through the whole song and dance OHL commissioner David Branch has in place, but the other bids weren’t known.

The method to the May Madness, of course, stems from the 2018 Cup being, theoretically, open to the entire Canadian Hockey League. Or at least the teams sufficiently liquid enough to cover a bid guarantee that is now in the $2.5-million range, which is more than double what it was a decade ago. The logic is that no bidder is showing its hand a year ahead of time, at least not to the public. At the end of the day, the CHL surely wants the tournament in media- and population-dense Ontario. It just can’t look like that.

One can see the obvious conflict, between wanting to maximize exposure and revenue, and pure on-ice competition. It’s flawed, but everyone just rolls with it. As a fact of life in such a big and underpopulated country, a lot of national championships in Canada involve a host team that essentially bought its way in by agreeing to pay the freight. The Memorial Cup just comes under more scrutiny. It’s the best-known and biggest in a dollar sense, plus the host team is one of four compared to the 1-in-5 of the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s Royal Bank Cup or 1-in-8 in Canadian Interuniversity Sport.

Logan Brown; Windsor Spitfires; OHL; CHL; 2016 NHL Draft; Top Prospect

Logan Brown is ranked seventh among North American skaters for the 2016 NHL Draft. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Rank-and-file OHL fans, though, might actually be ahead of the game compared to purists on OHL Twitter. It’s not like there is massive outcry over the tournament moving far away from the founders’ intention, which was to have the best team decided by merit and puck luck. It has become a money game—good for the CHL’s bottom line, and perhaps it knows a harsh truth that there might not be a ‘big dollar’ in setting up a structure that is more equitable.

The Spitfires, with OHL defenceman of the year Mikhail Sergachev and fellow projected high NHL pick Logan Stanley as projected back-end pillars, stack up as a credible host team. Coach Rocky Thompson will also be on his second tour through the league next season. General manager Warren Rychel’s squad boasts a predominantly accelerated goalie prospect with 17-year-old Michael DiPietro.

Haters will hate. A 33-regulation win, 87-point regular season with a plus-53 goal differential stacks up very well against the seasons most recent host teams turned in before getting the nod. That might just be a reflection on the process, though.

How sweep it is
Since out of sight means out of mind, the Niagara IceDogs-London Knights championship series will almost feel like the start of a new season when it begins on Thursday. It’s not exactly conducive to providing an alternative for fans who aren’t feeling a Canadian-team-free Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Josh Ho-Sang; Niagara IceDogs; OHL; CHL; New York Islanders; 2014 NHL Draft; OHL Playoffs; Sportsnet

Josh Ho-Sang leads the IceDogs in scoring with 21 points in 13 playoff games. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

That’s what happens when five of the past six series have been sweeps, which makes for a dull post-season. Rationally, that’s probably a random cluster that probably only reflects that Alex Nedeljkovic, Josh Ho-Sang and the IceDogs have been a locked-in veteran team, while Mitch Marner and the Knights are a wrecking crew. The wheat has just separated from the chaff.

At least the teams should be relatively fresh. Brendan Perlini, Niagara’s first-line left winger and an Arizona Coyotes first-rounder, will miss the first two games of the final due to his cross-checking suspension.

Boyd moves upstairs
Change had to come for the Missisauga Steelheads, who have the Eastern Conference’s best stable of returning talent but were seventh on that side of the league. James Richmond, the coach in waiting who was twice named top bench boss in the OJHL, will take the reins next season. James Boyd, after five seasons in a dual role, will have just the general manager’s hat.

The Steelheads’ ceiling is set at ‘scary good.’ Left winger Alexander Nylander, centre Michael McLeod and late-birthdate defenceman Nicolas Hague helm a talented 1998-born cohort, and the ’99s are strong with centres Owen Tippett and Ryan McLeod.

The coach-GM is a vanishing breed. Niagara’s Marty Williamson, North Bay’s Stan Butler and Ottawa’s Jeff Brown are the only three in the OHL.

Head shot on Langdon raises liability question
Last week, Toronto Maple Leafs beat writer James Mirtle raised some important questions about how many fights in the OHL involve a legal adult who is over 18 and someone who is a minor. Coincidentally, during the same news cycle, Barrie Colts overage captain Michael Webster saw his OHL days end with a check to the head of Niagara winger Kyle Langdon.

Webster, who got a 10-game suspension, should be well-remembered as a solid all-around defender who played his whole career in Barrie. It’s still worth asking why, if fights between players with a big age gap is such a concern, shouldn’t the same apply to checks to the head? Webster, in fact, is 27 months older than Langdon.

Of course, fighting is easier to control. Penalizing checks to the head and neck area during a game is difficult enough, but with the growing amount of research on brain injuries, it’s something all age-group leagues will have to confront.

The OHL’s fight cap, where a player can be suspended for fighting more than 10 times in a season, is working. The Kingston Frontenacs and Guelph Storm, respectively, had 62 and 49 fighting majors this season, but no other team accumulated 40. Every team had at least 40 in 2011-12, the season before the fight cap was installed.

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