OHL open to top 15-year-olds

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

The door has been opened for exceptional 15-year-olds to play in the OHL.

The league announced yesterday it has adopted a policy that will allow 14-year-old John Tavares of Toronto, who turns 15 in September, to be selected in Saturday's draft.

The Oshawa Generals, picking first after finishing last overall, will announce today they will take Tavares.

He had 83 goals and 147 points in 77 games with the Toronto Marlies minor midgets. He also played 16 games in Tier 2 junior with 23 points, including 11 goals.

Commissioner David Branch said the league acted under a proposal headed to Hockey Canada's annual general meeting later this month. If passed, it will allow only exceptional 15-year-old Canadians to play major junior.

At the moment, Hockey Canada permits 15-year-olds in major junior, although the OHL prohibits it.

Branch, who is also president of the Canadian Hockey League, is a member of a Hockey Canada committee that is studying the development of juniors.

Branch said an area the committee has been asked to look into is how to keep young players in Canada. He said the committee agrees that 15-year-olds shouldn't be eligible for major junior, except in cases where a player is deemed exceptional.

"The only reason there are restrictions on 15-year-olds in the OHL is because we put them in place," Branch said.

"If Hockey Canada flat-out rejects the ruling that allows John Tavares to play in our league, I would suggest we will continue to have a process in place to deal with exceptional players on a regional basis.

"But the only reason we have this is because Hockey Canada asked us to look at how to deal with the exceptional player."

There was speculation Tavares was headed for the United States Hockey League if he wasn't in the OHL next season. But Branch said the Hockey Canada committee was formed 18 months ago before the Tavares case.

The OHL drew up a panel to review an application by Tavares that he be granted exceptional-player status. It consisted of Kevin Burkett, a labour mediator and minor and Tier 2 coach; Frank Bonello, a former coach and GM and current director of NHL central scouting, and retired NHL player and current minor hockey coach and parent Doug Gilmour.

Branch said the panel had full and binding authority.

"We were mindful of not only the athletic challenges but also the emotional and academic challenges that would occur should a 15-year-old be permitted to play in the OHL," Burkett said.

The panel considered several reports, including one from Paul Dennis, a sports psychologist who interviewed Tavares to determine if he has the life skills to qualify as an exceptional player.

The panel also heard from a teacher; a coach, Bob Kitamura; the OHL's chief scout, and Tavares's mother.

Tavares also submitted an essay and was interviewed.

"We've also given the league a mandate to supervise his off-ice conditions and development during his first year of play," Burkett added.

Branch said the Hockey Canada committee has proposed that a national panel be established to hear future applications. There also would be a $1,000 fee, non-refundable if the application is rejected.

Tavares is represented by Brian Deasley of Siskinds Sports Management, a division of Siskinds The Law Firm, which has its head office in London.


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