Time to scrap CHL's top prospects game

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:44 PM ET

Sure, it's a hoot to see Don Cherry pay up 100 bucks to Bobby Orr after a lost bet.

But really, it's time to scrap the Canadian Hockey League's top prospects game.

It had a good run. Fourteen years is a long time - 18, in fact, if including its original identity as the CHL All-Star challenge from 1992-95.

But the contest billed as a big showcase for the top 40 draft-eligible players from the OHL, Quebec league and Western circuit has become redundant on an already jammed major junior hockey calendar.

This year's game was played last week in Oshawa - too closely on the heels of the world junior tournament in Ottawa.

There's already a Canada-Russia Challenge series in November for the world junior hopefuls and all-star games on tap (the OHL All-Star Classic goes at Windsor's new WFCU Centre on Feb. 4).

Club teams cross their fingers when they send their best and brightest to a contest known as being more than the typical all-star "no-hitter."

There's a lot of physical risk in that kind of game.

The biggest news from Oshawa was London Knights sniper John Tavares leaving early with a shoulder injury after getting blasted by Peterborough's Zack Kassian.

Windsor defenceman Ryan Ellis, another Team Canada gold medallist and big part of the Spitfires' fortunes this season, blocked a shot and limped off the ice.

He returned later unfazed but the Knights and Spits were left holding their breath waiting to see if they'd be all right.

Wouldn't it have been something if Tavares suffered a significant injury on the hit and the NHL team picking first in Montreal in June decided to go in a non-OHL and CHL direction - such as Sweden's Victor Hedman - with the No. 1 selection.

At some point, teams will have to start considering holding back their players.

Does the game really mean that much?

Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane was a minus-five but that hasn't hurt his draft ranking since he showed well at the world juniors.

The whole practical reason for a top prospects game is for NHL scouts to see the best of this season's crop all in one place competing against their peers. But the whole point of bird dogs packing up and tooling around North America rinks to watch countless club games is all about checking out how the top guns handle playing with skaters both older and younger than them?

Of course, there's a financial component to the game. The league always stands to make money from events such as these and it's a TV property for Rogers Sportsnet.

But for most of its history, the game was held in larger venues such as Maple Leaf Gardens and Air Canada Centre, the Saddledome in Calgary or Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.

This time, 5,510 showed up at the General Motors Centre in Oshawa for what was Tavares' last game in his long-time OHL home rink.

David Branch, the OHL commissioner and CHL president, possesses the clout to pull the plug on the game. He has used his power in the name of player safety - adding neckguards last season and introducing steeper suspensions for fighting without a helmet last week.

He should do it to rid the league of one exhibition game too many next year.

AROUND THE OHL: Veteran F Akim Aliu has one goal and two points in five games since moving from London to Sudbury in a trade. Rookie F Christian Thomas has two goals and five points in five games since the Knights shipped him to Oshawa in the Tavares deal...It won't be long before an official gets clocked by an errant punch because of the OHL's new helmet rule. Linesmen are instructed to intervene in a fight as soon as a bucket pops off...Niagara is 9-5 with D Alex Pietrangelo in the IceDogs' lineup...Guelph over-ager Tim Priamo is the latest in a growing trend - veteran forwards taking a spin on defence. The 20-year-old, who spent four seasons as an OHL forward, was moved to full-time defenceman for the streaking Storm, who have won eight of their past 10...First, the OHL honoured Owen Sound veteran F Marcus Carroll as its player of the week. Then, the league suspended the feisty son of Stanley Cup winner Billy Carroll two games for engaging in the second fight during the same stoppage...John Tavares has a nine-game goal scoring streak (plus a 19-game point streak) rolling right now. Sarnia's Jamie Arniel is right behind him with a current string of eight games with at least one tally (and points in his last 12 games)...Brampton's Cody Hodgson hasn't changed his clutch ways since the world juniors. He currently leads the OHL with seven game-winning goals.


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