Distance no problem for Attack GM

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

Let's get this straight -- Dale DeGray loves to drive.

No one puts 65,000 kilometres on their vehicle in one hockey season otherwise.

"I think the record is once, I drove from here up to Owen Sound and then back to Niagara Falls all in one day," the former Toronto Maple Leaf and Gretzky-era L.A. Kings defenceman said.

"Here" is Courtice, near Oshawa, where DeGray still lives. But he's the GM of the Owen Sound Attack, the OHL's smallest market, a three-hour drive away.

Some in the Sound grumble he's an absentee GM, that he should be the face of the franchise. But not if you see him work and or if you're smitten by the young, exciting team he has crafted in a year and a half at the helm. The Attack have beaten the London Knights twice and keep taking the Windsor Spitfires to overtime.

"These days, all you need is a laptop, cellphone, e-mail and you can work from anywhere," DeGray said. "Everyone knows I'm only a phone call away. Plus, it's three hours, not eight hours, so I can get to the rink if I really need to be there.

"Ownership knew my situation when they hired me. It's never been brought up. I can see where some people could think I should be there all the time, but I don't run the office. I'm out scouting."

Where he is now is 40 minutes from Toronto -- where a good chunk of OHL prospects play -- instead of 2 1/2 hours away. You have to be where the kids are, not where you want them to end up.

"It's not rocket science," DeGray said. "You keep tabs on the midgets coming up and the players you have in your system. You're watching a lot of hockey."

And he's a success when more people come out to watch his team play.

"The numbers might not impress other cities, but when we get 2,200 fans, that's 10 per cent of the population at the arena. How many cities with 220,000 people get that percentage out to their games? Not many I know.

"The fans get it and we know if we put an entertaining and winning product on the ice, we'll have more crowds like we did (more than 3,000 for a 5-2 win over London Sunday). We know we have to make the playoffs this year. That's the next step in this team."

To make it all work, DeGray needed a no-nonsense coach. A guy capable of changing a hard-luck hockey culture in a city that has watched both tragic figure Dan Snyder and comic relief Sean Avery play their junior there.

The GM gave eight-year NHLer Mark Reeds a buzz.

"We were both in the (United Hockey League) at the same time -- he was coaching the Missouri River Otters and I had the Rockford IceHogs," DeGray said. "We had the same owner, same budget and he had a .700 (winning percentage) and I was hovering around .500 so I thought, 'This guy's got it figured out. He's on to something here.' "

Reeds grew up in Toronto. He played junior in Peterborough. Owen Sound was a culture shock at first.

"When I call it a one-stoplight town, I don't mean it only has one stoplight," Reeds said. "I mean you might have to stop at one light on a street but you probably won't have to sit through two."

With DeGray and Reeds in the driver's seat, it appears Owen Sound won't sit through a rebuilding phase for long.

AROUND THE O

The Mississauga Majors will paint the Hershey Centre pink for the second year in a row Friday against the Barrie Colts to help fight breast cancer. Longtime mayor Hazel McCallion, Don Cherry and OHL commissioner David Branch will participate in the pre-game ceremony . . . Expect no quit in the first-place Windsor Spitfires as they charge toward their first OHL regular season title since 1988. Seeing the auto industry struggle and people being put out of work has only made the Spits work harder. "The city's been hit hard economically," Windsor head coach Bob Boughner said, "and we're in the position to provide a temporary distraction from that

reality. We're trying to give Windsor a team they can be feel good about, take pride in and rally behind." . . . John Tavares to London included, there's been no better pickup in the OHL this year than Belleville's acquisition of forward Luke Pither from Guelph. The Burketon native has 12 goals, 28 points and a plus-14 rating in 13 games since he became a Bull . . . Too bad for Tyler Cuma. Ottawa's stud defenceman injured his knee at the world junior tryout camp, leaving the gold-medal club without a 67 on the team. He tried to come back last week but reaggravated his knee in his first game. Some seasons, you can't buy a break.


Videos

Photos