Conference argument here to stay

IAN SHANTZ, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:44 AM ET

BARRIE -- Some say the West is the best. Others argue the East is the beast.

It's an age-old Ontario Hockey League argument that will never die.

Wherever the truth lies, we can be assured this much: it makes for one whopper of a hockey conversation.

So with the conferences set to go head-to-head when the OHL All-Star Classic hits the ice in Kingston on Wednesday, it seems like as good a time as any to explore the OHL's sometimes palpable power struggle.

"I'm reluctant to say there's a distinct difference," said Belleville Bulls GM-head coach George Burnett, a veteran of the league whose club is fresh off a three-year run of success.

"I don't think it's as clear cut as maybe one would consider. I've been in the league for 13 or 14 years and there's more parity than every before. I think it's all how you analyze it."

Championship titles are always a solid gauge.

In the last decade, starting in 2000, teams playing out of the Western Conference have claimed seven league titles.

A decade before that, six eastern-based teams claimed the top prize.

The '80s brought about a split decision in terms of titles, though that's before the East-West conference format was brought in and the league was in constant turbulence.

In doing the math, it's clear Western Conference teams have dominated in terms of championship bragging rights lately.

"If you look strictly at points (and titles), you might have a bit of an argument, I suppose," said Burnett, who played for the London Knights in the early '80s. "But it's a topic that's probably more for people on the outside. (For us), there are no easy nights."

What's obvious is that parity rules and neither the West nor East can brag with ease. Save for the West's recent run, it's far from one-sided.

Still, if we were to gauge in other ways, maybe the West does have a decisive stranglehold.

Winning percentage tells a pretty one-sided story.

This season, for instance, just two Western Conference teams dip below the .500 mark. In contrast, just three teams in the East sport a winning record.

Owen Sound is fighting for a playoff spot as it sits below .500 in the West. Meanwhile, Peterborough is just below .500, yet is nestled in the Eastern Conference's No. 4 hole.

Intangibles such as schedule and rink size serve to make it that much more difficult in determining which conference rules the roost.

"It's a great debate," said Kitchener Rangers GM-head coach Steve Spott, who has spent his entire 15-year coaching career in the Western Conference, with Kitchener and Plymouth.

Of course, we can look at more than just titles and wins.

For instance, the argument has always been that it's a rougher, more defensive-minded style in the West, while it's a softer, goal-scorer's game in the East.

Entering this week's action, the West had amassed a combined 9,216 penalty minutes and 1,867 goals this season. Teams in the East had combined for 8,915 penalty minutes and 1,622 goals.

From that, it would appear the West is both tougher and, dare we say, more wide open in terms of goal-scoring, at least this season

"I think it's a little more physical in the West," Spott said "You look at places like the Soo ... they're intimidating places to play ... There are some tough places in the East, too."

As individual scoring titles go, that's a toss-up, with five players from each side claiming the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy in the last decade. The last five winners were in the West.

The debate will always be there. Western Conference? Eastern Conference?

"It's still junior hockey," Spott said. "You still have to play the games."

ian.shantz@sunmedia.ca


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