Juniors keeping positive outlook

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:17 AM ET

The NHL lockout hasn't caused a flocking of fans to the 56 major junior hockey rinks across Canada and one has to wonder whether it has had much of an impact at all.

"Our attendance has been up slightly, about 6% to 7% overall," said David Branch, who is president of both the Canadian Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League. "We've done a good job of keeping our game positive."

Branch, who was disappointed when the lockout began last September and saddened by the cancellation of the NHL season yesterday, acknowledged that other factors probably have been responsible for the small spike in attendance, especially in the OHL and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

In the OHL, there are the London Knights, who have lost just four games and have been attracting season-high crowds in most of the cities they have visited. In the QMJHL, there is superstar Sidney Crosby, who has been smashing his way through the league for the past two seasons.

THREE ELEMENTS

"The Knights, Sidney Crosby and the world junior championship in Grand Forks (where Canada last month won gold for the first time in eight years) all have been positive news stories," Branch said. "Those three elements have been (special) for hockey fans."

Unless one of his arms falls off, or his team of lawyers have a few tricks up their sleeves, Crosby will be the first pick overall in the next NHL entry draft.

But with the season's death yesterday, Players' Association boss Bob Goodenow said the draft this year is "a moot point" and NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly reiterated that no draft will happen until there is a new agreement in place.

Meanwhile, how the draft order is determined is anyone's guess. The situation leaves a bunch of prospects in the dark, but one of them said there is some relief.

"It is a disappointment to an extent, but it's something we can put in the back of our minds now," Owen Sound Attack forward Bobby Ryan said.

"We know the draft will happen at some point, but just not when we were expecting it to."


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