January 19, 2011
OHL drug situation looks badHaving a player return before a suspension is announced is poor optics for league
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
LONDON, ONT. - There are plenty of reasons for commissioner David Branch and the rest of the Ontario Hockey League to celebrate this week.
The ability to hold the interest of the NHL's GMs and hockey brass with an event such as Wednesday's Top Prospects Game proves the Canadian Hockey League is still the most important development league in the world.
Placing this year's game at the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto is, like the Memorial Cup at Mississauga in May and the just-completed world juniors, part of the strategic effort to make the junior game relevant again in the Maple Leafs-dominated neck of the woods.
The CHL's Canada-Russia Super Series, which had been starting to feel a tad dreary, now has a built-in marketing boost next fall thanks to a certain infamous five-goal third period in Buffalo two weeks ago.
In the battle to attract the top-end teenaged talent, Branch's crew is still at the forefront, though certainly under considerable pressure from some Tier II leagues that, with their own gate and playoff fate in mind, have been demanding a heavy price from OHL clubs to part with their star talent.
And at every corner, the NCAA is there to convince its golden recruits the benefits of the U.S. college route.
The more intricate and involved the OHL becomes, the more potential controversy looms. The league last week dealt with its first two anti-doping violations and came across sending a mixed message.
When the eight-game suspensions were officially announced last Friday, Plymouth Whalers forward Alex Aleardi had already returned to the lineup after serving his penalty for having methylhexanamine in his system.
Many were under the impression he had been out with an upper-body injury. That wasn't the case.
Plymouth GM and coach Mike Vellucci said Aleardi is a good kid who came to him right away and wanted to put this mistake behind him in a hurry so the Whalers put him on team suspension to get the clock ticking.
Though the OHL's first interest is to protect and educate its players, the optics of a guy in the lineup the day his suspension is announced just looks and feels a little bit backward.
AROUND THE O
Ottawa's Tyler Toffoli has 41 goals and, the way he can heat up, has a real shot at 60. Impressive stuff. But no one is having a better offensive season than Owen Sound Attack F Joey Hishon. If he didn't miss a bunch of games early, he'd be on pace for 130 points -- most since Patrick Kane's 145 for the London Knights in 2006-07 ... Neither conference leader -- Mississauga nor Saginaw -- has a scorer in the top 15. They're doing it mostly with solid defence and balance, and not so much razzle dazzle ... Want to make a lasting impression at the Top Prospects Game, boys? Two moments really stand out -- Zack Kassian's crunching hit on first overall-to-be John Tavares in Oshawa two years ago and Rob Schremp's cheeky lacrosse-style try at the 2004 game in London. Let's see if the Air Canada Centre provides a similar moment ... With Denny Lambert fired and GM Dave Torrie on the bench, the Ted Nolan watch is on in Sault Ste. Marie. Hey, the Blue Jays brought back Cito Gaston as manager after an a decade hiatus. Why not Nolan again with the Hounds after 17 years? Big shame Gabriel Landeskog's ankle sprain will keep him out of the prospects game. You always want a look at the guys who might go No. 1 overall in the NHL draft together on the ice. Sure, Sean Couturier and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will captain the Cherry and Orr squads, but there's something missing without Landeskog and for that matter, defenceman Adam Larsson, not eligible for the game because he doesn't play in the Canadian Hockey League ... It's not always the best barometer but it makes sense teams with multiple players at the prospects game are often major contenders for the next few years. In that sense, watch out for the Oshawa Generals and Kitchener Rangers, both represented by three skaters in Toronto. In the Quebec and Western leagues, the Saint John Sea Dogs and Portland Winterhawks have four apiece.
THE BOOK ON
Dougie Hamilton, D, Niagara IceDogs
The big guy has quickly developed into NHL first-round material and will skate in the Top Prospects Game Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre, where his family had season tickets. In St. Catharines, he plays with his older brother Freddie, a scoring forward for the Dogs. "It's a dream come true," Dougie said.
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G PG A PTS PIM +/-
Strengths: He's smart (2010 OHL academic player of the year) and has great athletic genes (his dad and mom were Olympians for Canada in rowing and basketball respectively). He makes a solid first pass and is pretty good offensively for a big D-man.
Weaknesses: The battle-level metre has to go through the roof. "I have the size," he said, "Now I just have to get better with my one-on-one game."
All those 5-foot-10 forwards want to try to dance around him. He has to make them think twice.
RATING OUT OF FIVE * * * *