Brankley part of Barn's character

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

Don Brankley wore the black hat every time he walked into Windsor Arena.

So it wouldn't feel right, with the Windsor Spitfires playing their last OHL game at the league's oldest rink tomorrow night against Guelph, to turn off the lights without a few more good-natured cracks from the building's all-time villain.

"I'm glad Windsor's getting a new arena -- it's a long time coming," the retired London Knights trainer said. "It's been around since they invented ice."

It's fitting that Brankley was tracked down at former Maple Leaf Jason Allison's farm near Toronto. Where else could he adequately wax eloquent about the 84-year-old rink forever known as "The Barn"?

"I always used to say the London Gardens/Ice House is full of history," Brankley said, "and the Windsor Arena is full of squirrels and mice."

Right now, Windsor is the OHL's big cheese. The Spits are in first place, they have tremendous talent with leading scorers Taylor Hall and Ryan Ellis and they'll move into the sparkling WFCU Centre next Thursday against the Belleville Bulls.

But it will take time and more characters like Brankley to make the new place feel as colourful as the old one.

One time at The Barn, a Knights player received an electric shock when he went to use the shower. Windsor fans quickly nicknamed Brankley "Waterboy" and called him that -- and much more -- over his entire 38-year career.

When he was honoured in the Rose City during his farewell tour last year, he pointed out to the jammed house that he was waving good-bye -- this time with all of his fingers.

Over the years, it felt like Windsor Arena was always on the verge of being replaced..

One year when the oratory sounded serious, Brankley had a T-shirt printed up that read, "Save Windsor Arena" and wore it.

"It was all in good fun," he said. "We (the Knights) were in for what could've been the last game in the building. It wasn't but one of the Windsor owners framed a picture of me in the shirt and drove it to London to deliver it.

"That was something. Windsor and London have always been great rivals."

The Spits and Knights are at it once again, fighting for Western Conference supremacy.

But when they meet next on Dec. 13, it will be in a new rink, without Brankley in the building and a lot of memories of the old Barn.

OHL NOTEBOOK: First, John Tavares watched Bobby Orr's No. 2 raised to the rafters of General Motors Centre last week. Then, on Sunday, he became the Oshawa Generals' new goal-scoring king after passing Tony Tanti with career tally No. 178 in a 3-2 shootout home loss to Mississauga. Tavares has played 219 games over four OHL seasons. Tanti scored 177 times in only 154 contests . . . The New York Islanders will keep first-rounder Josh Bailey in the NHL. No matter what Windsor does this season, the Spits will always know how good they could've been with him back in junior. Big D Harry Young is the team's new captain . . . There are now 11 head coaches in the 20-team OHL with NHL playing experience. Kingston's hiring of Doug Gilmour shifted the balance . . . There is just one European player among the OHL's top 20 scorers -- Brampton's rookie Russian Evgeny Grachev (16-13-29). The Battalion have won 18 of 19 games and would be gunning for 20 straight if not for Niagara D Alex Pietrangelo's overtime winner last week . . . Here's one big reason to hold onto young assets: Sarnia's Justin DiBenedetto is the only skater among the league's top 10 scorers to be traded during his OHL career . . . Which team do Western Conference clubs want to avoid in the first round of the playoffs? Right now, it looks like upstart Owen Sound, who just knocked off London and Belleville on back-to-back nights.


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