written by Ian C McLaren
As the hole that is NHL lockout grows deeper every day, the gap between consumers of a certain hockey-based product and true fans of the game in general only continues to widen. Case in point, those who complain about the lack of hockey when there is a veritable buffet of pucks being served up all around them, especially for those who live in a province whose capital is the so-called ‘centre of the hockey universe’.
Pinpoint Toronto on a map and draw a circle at around 200 km from the CN Tower, for example; on any given weekend one can drive in any direction and find themselves seated in over half of the OHL’s 20 arenas. There, you will find some of the finest junior hockey players in doing their darnedest to make an impression on their potential future employers, and /or trying to make the most of their limited time playing meaningful hockey.
But, as the argument goes, there are some out there who quite candidly hold on to the belief that anything other than the NHL is an inferior hockey product, and, to be honest, those folks are probably quite right. The NHL is without question the pinnacle of the sport, and people get so invested in their favorite teams and players that anything less would be (dare I say) uncivilized, the 2 weeks after Christmas notwithstanding.
Having said that, the argument can be made that it’s the less than perfect nature of the junior game that makes it so compelling.
To wit, Jeff Marek of Sportsnet routinely argues on the MvsW podcast that while you may see 3 or 4 mistakes in an NHL game that will lead to a scoring chance, you may see 15-20 in an OHL game, creating that much more excitement, albeit at the cost of a more refined game. These young players are still learning, growing, trying to figure out who they are, and (as with anyone of a certain age) are prone to making mistakes and acting on their emotions. It’s what makes the junior game so beautifully unpredictable, and sets it apart from the more elegant or stylized pro game.
On another level, fans of the NHL in this province should pay more attention to the O if only for the fact that there are players currently in this league who might one day be featured on their favorite teams. As a Bruins fan, for example, how can I not be devoting some time to tracking the likes of Dougie Hamilton, Malcolm Subban, Alexander Khokhlachev and Seth Griffith? Not only that, but there are a plethora of potential future stars scattered throughout the whole league (such as Alex Galchenyuk, Mark Scheifele, Boone Jenner, Ryan Strome, Sean Monohan & Connor McDavid), some of whom may one day be the subject of some terrific “I saw them when …” stories.
Look, I’m not trying to romanticize the junior game in an attempt to convince even myself that it’s an equal substitute for the NHL, which in all honesty, I dearly miss. I live 10 minutes from the nearest OHL rink, and have not been to as many games in the past few years as I would have liked. But part of the reason I’m excited add Combine to my Hockey Writers repertoire is so that I can be more intentional about following this ‘branch’ of the game I love so much.
The reality is that a strong and exciting brand of hockey is being played around the corner from many of us in Ontario, and the ability to embrace it is what will set true fans apart from mere consumers. Think of it like being able to appreciate music without limiting yourself to one genre or even one band. And as the buzz begins to mount in terms of the prospect of a multi-year lockout, it’s high time that we stop lamenting a lack of hockey and pretending that the NHL is the only beat in town (or in the province, so to speak).
As such, I propose that the Ontario government adopt a new slogan as presented in the title of this article. Or not. Their call.
As for me, I am excited to dive deeper into the OHL, and look forward to covering it here at Combine. As a resident of Guelph, I will focus in on the Storm, but will also keep my eyes on the league in general.
Feel free to hit me up on twitter and let me know what / who you might want to read about.