67's top choice would love it here

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

Logan Couture and his family face a choice. A life-changing choice.

Logan and the rest of his family -- father Chet, mom Lori and brother Judson -- are in town today to check out Ottawa and the 67's.

They are here to kick the tires of an overflowing bandwagon, here to check out firsthand what makes junior hockey the amazing and vibrant game that it is in our city.

The family is evaluating their options, one of which is the opportunity to become part, a big part, of the Ottawa 67's. I'd never presume to tell the Coutures what choice they should make, only that they make sure that choice is well-informed and well-considered.

VISITING OTTAWA TODAY

The family is taking those steps today by visiting Ottawa to see what our city and the 67's have to offer, culminating in tonight's Game 4 of the Ontario Hockey League final at the Civic Centre.

It is a tough decision to let your 15-year-old son leave home, one only parents in the Coutures' position can understand. Parents want to know their son's best interests will be guarded, that he be nurtured both as a person and a player.

It can be an intimidating process for the son.

"That was my biggest worry, moving away from home," said 67's winger Mark Mancari, the OHL's leading playoff goal scorer who, like the Coutures, is from London, Ont. "Six hours away ... but the 67's made it easier. Everybody here was great. It's a family environment here from the coaching staff to the players to the training staff to the front office people to the billets."

But there are many things, in addition to the strength of the support system for the person, that make the 67's the flagship franchise of the Ontario Hockey League and, arguably, the Canadian Hockey League.

Despite the cyclical nature of junior hockey, the 67's are a contender year after year.

They will try to win their third Memorial Cup this year and, based on the strength of their returning players next year, the availability of some great overagers and the potential of the first pick in the European draft, are an early favourite to return to the OHL final and maybe the Memorial Cup again next year.

Couture, the top-rated 1989-born player for the draft, could be a big part of helping them get there.

How many chances does a player get to play for a Hall of Famer, the all-time winningest coach in junior hockey history?

Owner Jeff Hunt, who sees his team playing in the OHL final for the fifth time in nine years, is hands-down the best owner in the OHL. He chartered a plane to ferry the 67's to playoff games this spring, cutting down on the strength-sapping bus rides.

After visiting Ottawa today, the Coutures will likely learn there is no better route to the NHL than the one that takes you through Ottawa and the 67's dressing room.

They will see the autographed pictures of the alumni in the 67's dressing room tonight, along the wall when you walk through the door of the dressing room and around the stalls.

A Hall of Famer like Denis Potvin. Guys like Doug Wilson, Bobby Smith, Gary Roberts and Murray Wilson.

More than 150 players have been drafted off the 67's roster and half of those have played in the NHL or are currently playing in the NHL.

Coach Brian Kilrea has the knack of turning out outstanding two-way centres like Andrew Cassels, Kris Draper, Alyn McCauley and Mike Peca.

The Civic Centre will be packed to the rafters again tonight, jammed with the passionate fans of junior hockey that make up this city. The 67's lead the CHL in attendance year after year.

Couture was available to the 67's because the Oshawa Generals, after courting Couture, opted to take John Tavares, the 14-year-old phenom ruled eligible for the draft just days before.

The Coutures were understandably upset. Which brings us to one of the sweetest aspects of coming to Ottawa to play for the 67's: The opportunity to play the Generals a half-dozen times.

If the Couture family has produced the type of proud athlete I think they have (you don't get to be the top-rated player for the draft without passion and pride in your craft), I have to think Logan Couture would love a shot at the Gens.

Or six of them. A six-pack of chances to show them the mistake they made.

And make the people of Ottawa appreciate how Oshawa's mistake resulted in the 67's good fortune.


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