OHL requires makeover

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

Sometimes the hockey community just doesn't get it. Those involved think they are a world unto themselves.

There are many recent example at the NHL level, but this week it's the OHL that's under scrutiny as it investigates another ugly incident.

Commissioner David Branch is trying to get to the bottom of why Windsor Spitfires talented rookie Akim Aliu lost three teeth when attacked by teammate Steve Downie at practice last Wednesday.

The team suspended both players but on Friday, Branch asked that the Spitfires reinstate Aliu. He didn't play that night in Sarnia.

Downie, 18, cross-checked Aliu, 16, in the face, knocking out the teeth. He also needed stitches above his left eye.

There are reports that it stemmed from a rookie initiation despite the fact the OHL has a zero-tolerance policy toward hazing.

"If his life is not safe (in Windsor), I will take him home (to Toronto)," Akim's father, Tai Aliu, told the Windsor Star.

It will be interesting to see how the league handles this and how much is brought to public light. But no parent should ever fear that their son is not safe in the OHL.

Last season, London Knights coach Dale Hunter spoke of how skilled players might be thinking twice about playing in the league with how the game had deteriorated on the ice. A new standard of rule enforcement is now in effect, but the league also needs to concern itself with its image off the ice.

Why did a talented player like Knights draft pick Sam Gagner, son of former OHLer and NHLer Dave Gagner, choose Tier 2 junior in the U.S. over the OHL?

Did the league think to ask the player and his parents?

Guelph Storm defenceman Ryan Pottruff went after the Knights' Corey Perry during the playoffs, taking a vicious two-handed swing at the Knights star. A linesman reported hearing Storm coach-GM Dave Barr say, "Someone go out there and break someone's wrist."

"The linesman was clear, concise and unwavering in his report," Branch said before clearing Barr of sending a player out to hurt Perry.

But he still suspended Barr for 15 games to start this season.

"(Barr) did not provide any directive . . . (but) a coach in the OHL is in a position of authority, particularly in relation to his players and must always conduct himself accordingly," Branch said.

Huh?

Barrie Colts coach-GM Bill Stewart twice smuggled 18-year-old Ukrainian Vladimir Chernenko into the U.S. in the luggage bay of the team bus because they had not obtained the necessary entry visa.

The OHL investigated, but was going to keep it hushed up -- until The Free Press and the Hockey News blew the whistle in a joint investigation.

Branch stripped Stewart of his GM's duties but he was allowed to continue coaching. And Colts owner Jamie Massie had the audacity to blame the media.

The OHL apologized to Chernenko, two months later. Can you say damage control?

"There was a sensitivity toward the ramifications on a number of individuals," Branch said of why he tried to keep it quiet. "We didn't feel we were obliged to make public . . ." and so on and so on.

Soo Greyhounds owner-GM-coach John Vanbiesbrouck uttered a racial slur against a black player and eventually resigned. But the league didn't immediately step in and it took more than a year for Vanbiesbrouck to sell his share in the team after Branch ordered him to.

Windsor coach Tom Webster had a physical run-in with a player during practice and resigned. But the league took no action.

The OHL pays a lot of lip service, like the rule that says teams can't give gifts, such as vacations for winning the league and the Memorial Cup.

It's left up to one owner to rat out another. Like that's going to happen. So why even have such a rule?

It's all about perception.

Hopefully, Aliu will feel he can come forward with his side of the story and he needs to have the confidence that he'll be backed by his team -- and his league.


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