TORONTO - No team has been hit harder than the Oshawa Generals in the OHL's current crackdown on headshots.
The Generals have lost three players for a total of 32 games already this season, a whopping total by any standard, as the league attempts to get rid of the nasty hits that lead to concussions and other serious head injuries.
Forwards Scott Sabourin (12 games) and Mark Petaccio (10 games), along with defenceman Kyle Hope (10 games) have been hit with some of the stiffest suspensions handed out this year. Only the 15-gamer London Knights defenceman Kyle Flemington, considered a repeat offender, was given for a check to the head of Sudbury Wolves rookie Jacob Harris is longer.
No other team in the OHL has been hit with more than one lengthy suspension -- there have been seven of eight games or more -- but Generals coach and general manager Chris DePiero wasn't about to play the martyr card.
Given that he's lost three veterans for an extended period, you'd almost expect DePiero to waffle when asked about the OHL's zero-tolerance stance on headshots. But he wasn't quibbling with the league over the length of suspensions, even though the players are still learning what's acceptable and what's not.
"We're all on board, all 20 teams are on board with what's going on," he said. "We've been the hardest hit (but) it's just one of those things. We'll take our medicine. It's a great learning tool for our guys to understand (what's acceptable).
"A lot of these guys watch the NHL and the video clips that our league has posted on the website are, again, great educational tools. Everybody has got access and is able to see them and understand. It may take some time but it's also pretty clear. And we all know it's pretty clear."
The Mississauga St. Michael's Majors have also fallen victim to the new OHL justice, losing overage forward Jamie Wise for eight games after a he was assessed a checking-from-behind major against the Kingston Frontenacs Oct. 2. The Majors are also waiting to learn the fate of rookie forward Junior Harris, who was suspended a minimum of two games pending a hearing after he instigated a fight in the final minute of a 5-1 loss to the Brampton Battalion.
"It doesn't matter," Majors coach/GM James Boyd said when asked if he likes what the OHL is doing now. "The league errs on the side of safety and I think at the junior level that's important. Players get the message with some stiff suspensions and start laying off some of the hits that previously were maybe clean hits or hits that were celebrated. They've got to adjust their decision-making or they're going to be sitting a long time."
Like it or not, the players have been forced to learn on the fly when it comes to hits to the head. Boyd is right when he says some of the hits, in the past, would have been used on highlight reels and team pump-up videos.
The only videos these hits will appear on is the one produced by the league, complete with an explanation of why the player will watch the next X number of games from the stands.
"If there's any sort of risk where you're going to make contact with the head, whether you mean to or not, it's a suspendable offence," Boyd said. "It's tough to get your guys out of that mind frame, to not finish their check. Some of the guys who are aggressive by nature, it's pretty hard for them. We'll continue to look at the video and go through the different situations. It will take a little time to change that thinking."
Wonder if Majors forward Riley Brace breaks into a wide grin every time his team goes a man short.
With the way things have gone in the first 10 games of the season, the fourth-year forward must lick his chops every time he steps onto the ice to kill another penalty. And the opposition better, pardon the pun, Brace for the worst.
Of Brace's nine goals (more than halfway to his career best of 17), five have come with the Majors shorthanded, more than every other team in the league.
"Riley is a very smart hockey player, he's a guy who wants to win hockey games," Boyd said. "In previous years here he's been a support guy on our team but a guy who's always revelled in his role, whatever it is. He didn't see a lot of power-play time, mostly just five on five stuff with the third and fourth lines. But he's always been a guy who's into the game and makes big plays at big times."
All told, St. Mike's has a league-best six shorties, two more than the Kitchener Rangers.
"It's not coaching, put it that way," Boyd said with a laugh.
Interestingly, the Majors are only 10th in PK percentage (83.3%) but the nine teams ahead of them have combined for just 12 shorthanded goals.