Itís hard to tell if there was a message in the Anaheim Ducksí surprising decision to loan forward Devante Smith-Pelly to the Canadian junior team.
After all, Smith-Pelly was playing regularly with the Ducks, averaging roughly 12 minutes of icetime over the past 10 games, and scored two of his three goals in the five games prior to leaving for the Canadian selection camp in Calgary. Really, he appeared to be settling in after making the Ducks a year, maybe even two, earlier than anyone would have expected.
Problem with sending Smith-Pelly to the Canadian junior camp is this ó people tend to read far too much into it. And now there are tiny whispers, probably just wishful thinking, that the 19-year-old forward from Scarborough could be headed back to the Mississauga St. Michaelís Majors once the world junior tourney ends.
Majors coach/general manager James Boyd isnít buying it, though. Not even a little.
ďNo, I donít think so,Ē he said when asked if Smith-Pelly was likely to be returned to the Majors in the new year. ďI havenít talked to Anaheim but my understanding is heís with the NHL team. I think the plan for him is to return to the NHL and good for him.
ďHeís a tremendous player, we know that. Heís probably a guy who is going to score 40 or 50 goals (in junior).Ē
Ah, coulda, shoulda, woulda. But, truth be told, itís not such an outlandish notion that the Ducks would consider sending Smith-Pelly back to the Majors.
There is a precident, after all.
The one that stands out happened more than a decade ago, when the New York Rangers loaned Manny Malhotra to the Canadian team for the 2000 world juniors ó after a season and a half in the NHL, if you can believe it ó and then returned him to Guelph for the final few of the season. It was a disaster, though you could hardly blame Malhotra.
So itís not a stretch that some OHL watchers might start thinking about seeing Smith-Pelly taking a few spins around the Hershey Centre ice again. And the way things have been going for St. Mikeís lately, some good news would be welcome.
The Majors have slipped all the way to last in the tight-as-a-frogís-butt Central Division after a 3-7-0-0 skid. Theyíre still holding down the final playoff berth but itís only by a narrow two-point margin over the Oshawa Generals.
And defenceman Stuart Percy, injured when he was sent head-first into the boards Sunday against the Kitchener Rangers, will be out until after Christmas due to a sprained wrist and whiplash. Percy could have been hurt worse but the Majors can ill afford to lose their captain for a prolonged stretch.
Wouldnít Smith-Pelly would be the perfect gift for Santa to leave under the tree for the ailing Majors?
THE DREAM DIES
Talk about the perfect storm of bad luck and lousy timing.
Kingston Frontenacs forward Ryan Spooner was diagnosed with mononucleosis last Friday, the day before he would have left for the Canadian junior team selection camp in Calgary. His opportunity to play in the world junior tourney ó as a 19-year-old, this would have been his last kick at the can ó was over before it began, taken away by a damn virus.
Incredibly, Spooner isnít the only one this has happened to. In 2008, then-Kitchener Rangers forward Nick Spaling was sent home from the Czech Republic before the world tournament started and a few days later, Cory Emmerton (who was traded from Kingston to Brampton) followed him.
But Spooner, surprisingly, seems to be taking the bad beat in stride.
ďItís disappointing right now, but I have the mentality where I canít really do anything about it so thereís no point in being too upset about it ó thatíll only make me feel worse,Ē he said on Yahoo.com. ďI feel like if I had to play hockey right now I could ó thatís the unfortunate thing. I feel like if I was at camp I would be able to play, but itís just a precaution. You canít really mess with this.Ē
Itís been one of those years for Spooner, though. Heís putting up decent numbers for a bad Kingston team and was heating up as December cooled. But heís also been the subject of trade rumours all season and probably will be moved before the OHLís deadline in January.
Thereís a perception around the OHL that the Western Conference is, top to bottom, deeper and better than its Leastern, sorry, Eastern cousin.
The numbers bear that out over the last decadeó Western teams have won the past five OHL titles and nine of 10 since 2001-02. The trend holds when it comes to the Memorial Cup, too, with Windsor (twice), London and Kitchener winning it since 2003.
But things could be different this season. Hockey Canada certainly thinks so.
Of the 14 OHL players at the Canadian junior teamís camp, 10 are from Eastern teams. Could have been 11 of 15 had Ryan Spooner been included. Heck, there are four Niagara IceDogs, the same number as the entire Western Conference contingent.
By its nature, junior hockey is cyclical. This type of conference domination ó at least when it comes to star power, the East has a distinct advantage ó happens periodically.
But after watching Western teams have their way in the playoffs, the Eastís resurgence should be interesting to keep an eye on come April.