Spitfires win could mess up schedule

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

If the Soo Greyhounds beat the Windsor Spitfires tonight to win their quarter-final playoff series, the London Knights and Kitchener Rangers will open an OHL Western Conference semifinal tomorrow night at the John Labatt Centre.

But should the Spitfires beat the Greyhounds in their Game 7 showdown, setting up a London-Windsor semifinal, it's anybody's guess when that series would start.

The Knights and Rangers have set all the dates for their potential series but the league may have to step in today and mediate negotiations for a London-Windsor schedule.

The Spitfires have balked at opening tomorrow night in London after they will arrive home in Windsor from Sault Ste. Marie around 5 a.m. that day.

But scheduling problems arise because the JLC isn't available Thursday or Sunday through Tuesday because of prior bookings.

That would mean the Knights and Spitfires would open Friday in London.

Even though the league set tomorrow as the day the conference semifinals could begin, the Spitfires and Greyhounds scheduled Game 7 for tonight.

Although the OHL hasn't officially been asked to intervene, commissioner David Branch told Knights general manager Mark Hunter yesterday that it wouldn't be fair to make the Spitfires come right back and play tomorrow night.

"I don't believe it would be in the best interest of the athletes involved . . . but the league has not yet been called in to mediate," Branch said when reached in Vancouver.

Even though the league hasn't been called in, Hunter is feeling pressured by the league.

"They won't let us start on Wednesday," he said. "But because of commitments at the John Labatt Centre, we might even have to open Thursday in Windsor, which is not right.

"I want to start at home. We earned that right by finishing first overall."

Branch sidestepped the question when asked why the league sets the dates that each round can begin, then doesn't abide by them.

"Few teams have a prime night on a Wednesday," he replied. "I asked Mark to take Windsor's situation into consideration (but) I didn't say he can't open on Wednesday."

The league sets the dates that each round can start prior to the beginning of the playoffs so teams can set their schedules accordingly.

The conference finals may begin April 19, with the league championship series opening May 3.

If a London-Windsor series opens Friday at the JLC, Game 2 would likely be Sunday in Windsor.

But with the JLC then booked for three straight nights, the teams would end up playing three nights in row, beginning April 13 in London.

Hunter doesn't like that schedule, which is why he wants to open tomorrow night.

A London-Kitchener semifinal would see Game 2 on Friday in Kitchener, with Game 3 back at the JLC on Saturday.

The Spitfires threw a wrench into the scenario by coming back to win three straight games against the Greyhounds after falling behind 3-0 in that series.

The only time in OHL history that a team has rallied to win a series after being down 3-0 was in 1988, when the Ottawa 67's beat the Oshawa Generals in a Leyden Division quarter-final.

The Generals were minutes from sweeping when Oshawa's Dean Morton put the puck in his own net, sending Game 4 to overtime. The 67's won that game, then three more to eliminate the Generals.

Morton went on to become an OHL official and now referees in the American Hockey League.

The last time a team was in a position to rally from a 3-0 series deficit was in 1998, the Erie Otters against the Knights in the West Division quarter-finals.

Erie won three in a row after London was up 3-0 but the Knights won Game 7.


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