Jury divided on dual roles in OHL

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

LONDON, ONT. - Look at the top of the Ontario Hockey League standings and what do you see?

A whole lot of men juggling the dual portfolio of GM and head coach.

All four division leaders -- Ottawa, London, Brampton and Plymouth -- have coaches who serve as their own bosses.

The top four teams in the Western Conference are that way. Same with the best three in the East.

Coincidence?

Steve Spott, the Kitchener Rangers' man in charge, thinks not.

"You look at the way Ottawa has always done it and the way we did it here with Pete (DeBoer) first and into today," said Spott, into his fourth year at the helm of the Aud-based squad. "When you're GM and coach and you see something that needs to be addressed, you're able to fix it without going through that extra layer.

"You look at the history of our league and that's the way it's worked." There are, as always, some asterisks involved.

The Owen Sound Attack won the OHL title last year with the talented Dale DeGray managing things and under-rated Mark Reeds, now helping the Ottawa Senators over-achieve, working the bench. But it does make a lot of sense the jobs are split up at the Bayshore, in Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury and Erie. It's hard to scout well when you're on a seven-hour bus ride with the team. But there's still little to suggest the one-man kingdom doesn't reign supreme.

Even Windsor, which won two straight Memorial Cup titles with Warren Rychel as GM and Bob Boughner on the bench, doesn't really enforce the two-man advantage. When you own the club, too, the chain of command is even shorter.

"Warren's on the ice with them all the time," Spott said.

If you want to take it further, three of the four teams out of the playoffs right now -- Kingston, Sault Ste. Marie, Erie -- have the two-man system in place. But if you're not top 16 in a 20-team league, you have a mountain of issues that need to be solved.

That's not Spott's concern.

The Rangers, third in the Western Conference, are trying to keep the OHL-leading London Knights in sight.

They are 10 points back but not about to roll over for their rivals.

"The first thing we want to do is make sure we secure home-ice advantage," he said, "and after that, we'll worry about winning the division. But absolutely, that's a goal. We have an outstanding group here. It starts at the back with tremendous goaltending (from John Gibson and Franky Palazzese). We play with a lot of structure." The Rangers didn't make a huge splash at the trade deadline like London, but they still felt like they got better.

"I don't like trading kids," Spott said. "There's no fun in that part of the job. But we were looking for another veteran forward and the Boston Bruins dropped it in our laps by sending us back (overager) Ty Randell. He's a big addition for us.

"We tried to get another forward, but we couldn't. We liked Austin Watson, we made a good offer, but they (Peterborough) went in another direction." Watson went to London.

But the Rangers still have Ryan Murphy, the most dangerous offensive blue-liner in the league and the inspirational Ben Fanelli, whose return from the devastating and much-publicized Mike Liambas hit gave Kitchener a major boost this season.

"It's gone past being a feel-good story," Spott said. "His play gave us the room to trade Julian Melchiori to Oshawa (which freed up the spot for the incoming Randell)."

It's created a belief this team can go deep into the OHL playoffs. The GM and head coach sure thinks so -- even if he's just one guy.

AROUND THE O: It's hard to believe how the Soo Greyhounds have fallen over the past two-and-a- half months. Since their victory in London on Remembrance Day (which featured Knights forward Ryan Rupert's five-game slash on Hounds taunter Nick Cousins), they have lost 21 of 27 games. Front-running London has gone on to win 20 of 26, including pasting the Soo twice on home ice ... The Erie Otters are closing in on securing the first-overall pick in the OHL draft this spring and the name to watch is forward Jared McCann, the Stratford native who now lives in Lambeth and plays minor midget for the London Junior Knights. He's a former Elgin-Middlesex Chief, which is interesting because the OHL Knights' star sniper at the moment is Greg McKegg, another ex-Chief acquired in a blockbuster trade three weeks ago from -- who else -- the Erie Otters.

E-mail ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca, read Ryan's column or follow Ryanatlfpress on Twitter.


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