World Cup Has Impact on OHL

The second week of OHL action began Wednesday night when the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds traveled to Windsor to take on the Spitfires. In this contest alone, the Spitfires were missing Julius Nattinen (ANA), Logan Stanley (WPG) and Mikhail Sergachev (MTL), all to NHL training camps.

Montreal Canadiens
Mikhail Sergachev is still at Montreal training camp and missing games with his OHL Spitfires.  Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Part of this is the regular business in the OHL. Part of this is due to the World Cup of Hockey. While the World Cup of Hockey has had plenty of press on attendance, viewership, and general likeability, there has been little on the effects that this event will have on all other levels of hockey. With the WCoH underway, the NHL teams have pushed their start date back about one week – the 2016-17 season begins Oct. 12 while the 2015-16 season began on Oct. 7. Even more importantly, many NHL teams are missing players to the WCoH which leaves roster holes for younger (aka CHL) players.

Due to this timeline, the OHL even considered pushing back the start of their season, but ultimately the team owners voted against the schedule change.  According to Ryan Pyette, the plan was to delay the season by a week. Now OHL fans are seeing teams that are often a fragment of what they will be as they watch the flood of players being returned to their home clubs almost every day. A simple perusal of Mark Scheig’s twitter profile will show you how frequent these player announcements are this time of year in the OHL.

A Missed Opportunity for the OHL?

Just this week, I sat down with Ryan Mantha, the newest Captain of the Niagara IceDogs, and one key statement he made was the cliché line of:

“Wins are worth two points now, the same as at the end of the year.”

While a statement like that is often the result of a player who has gone through the rungs of media school, this year it is harshly true. A team like Niagara, who is going to be fighting to simply make the playoffs, needs to make hay while they can early in the season.

On the other side of the coin, the London Knights, who started the season as the number one ranked team in the OHL, started the season with a loss to the Sarnia Sting.  Not that Sarnia is a slouch of a team, but when the number one ranked team in all of the CHL loses their first game, it is noteworthy.

So Who Got It Wrong? Why Did the OHL Decide to Keep the Schedule as Is?

The most obvious reason is that there are already other factors that affect the OHL schedule throughout the course of the year.

The World Junior decimates teams over the Christmas Holidays – to the point the OHL shuts its door and has a trade freeze over much of this time. As Josh Brown identifies, teams will deal with sickness (often Mono) and long term injuries. There is just so much that happens over the course of a season that sticking to a schedule that is tried and true was the safest thing to do, rather than try and jam more games into a shorter period of time.

The one adjustment the league did make was an attempt to limit teams to two games in the opening weekend – with many teams only playing one game. Flint was the only team that had to play three games in the opening weekend. At the end of the day, and really, by the end of the next two weeks, this schedule talk will be well in the rear-view mirror. Teams won’t be thinking about these games. Yet, we must acknowledge these games are just as important as the ones in March.