OHL notes: Yakupov suspension suspicious

Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting had a productive first period of their home opener Friday...

Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting had a productive first period of their home opener Friday September 23, 2011 against the Erie Otters. (MIKE HENSEN/QMI Agency)

DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:27 PM ET

Ironic isn’t it that Nail Yakupov ended up getting a little more rest than his doctor prescribed.

Yakupov, the Sarnia Sting’s star forward and the top-ranked North American prospect for the 2012 NHL draft, skipped the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game in Kelowna, B.C., because he was coming off a knee injury that, his doctor said, required rest. Making a cross-country trip to play in what amounts to an exhibition game didn’t qualify as rest, apparently.

The Sting even produced a doctor’s note of sorts, issuing a press release that said “Dr. R. Giffin of the Fowler Kennedy Clinic in London has advised the hockey club that it is in the best interest of (Yakupov) not to partake in the Top Prospects game.”

Well, CHL president David Branch, who doubles as the OHL commissioner, felt differently and suspended Yakupov for two games. He sat out the Sting’s 4-1 win over Plymouth Friday but, due to a quirk in the schedule, won’t get to finish the suspension until Thursday, when Sarnia visits Barrie.

Clearly, the CHL felt something was a little fishy with the whole situation and, frankly, everyone involved in the Top Prospects game was probably a little embarrassed about being stood up by a player who could well be taken with the first pick in this summer’s NHL draft.

Sure, you can trot out the whole CHL policy line — it’s a minimum two-gamer for invited players who skip special events like the Top Prospects without a valid excuse — but c’mon, there surely must have been something more to it than that. It was, Branch admitted, an “awkward” situation,

“The doctor’s note was, without question, considered,” Branch said. “It was the fact he did not choose to (make the trip to Kelowna). It was felt that it would have been appropriate that he come and have the situation assessed by a doctor. I think (Quebec Remparts forward) Mikhail Grigorenko was an example (of what should have been done). He was battling an upper ankle sprain. We did cut back on his activities in the (testing) and individual skills.”

Methinks there was a little more to the story than that, though.

It reads more like the student who tried to wiggle out of an excursion to the museum by, ahem, coincidentally getting “sick” on the day of the trip. And as so often happens — I’m not speaking from personal experience here — the student was caught, and punished, by the principal.

The league can’t, and won’t, have the inmates run the asylum. Allowing Yakupov to get off scot-free, if he or the Sting did indeed try to bend the rules, would have been a huge mistake.

But I suppose I can see both sides of the argument here.

After missing a month due to the injury, Yakupov did play three times (in three days) before the Prospects Game but appeared to still be hurting. Clearly he wasn’t himself so, yes, I’m sure he would have been better off taking a break.

Interestingly, Yakupov was deleted from the Prospects Game roster on Jan. 18 because he was injured. To the best of my knowledge, he was never put back on the roster.

When he played for the Sting three days before the Prospects Game, though, the dynamics of the situation, to say nothing of the optics, changed dramatically. And that left the CHL with no choice.

BOTTOMING OUT?

Looks like the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors are paying the price for starting their rebuilding process early.

The Majors, now a game under .500, find themselves clinging precariously to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference thanks to a four-game losing skid. The ninth-place and sliding Belleville Bulls are just a point behind but have two games in hand.

A playoff berth is now in jeopardy for the Majors. But a couple of factors are in play here and both involve short-term pain for long-term gain.

The Majors traded a handful of veterans, including stud goalie J.P. Anderson, to get younger at the deadline. Plus, a concussion has effectively shut down captain Stuart Percy, St. Mike’s best defenceman.

Usually, those things translate into an early start to the off-season.

AROUND THE O

The Kitchener Rangers No. 1 goalie, John Gibson, will have surgery to remove his adenoids and tonsils Wednesday in Pittsburgh. He’ll probably miss a couple of weeks, which means backup Frank Palazzese gets to carry the ball ... Speaking of goalies, the Bulls got a huge boost for the stretch run with the return of Malcolm Subban. After missing more than a month with a groin injury, Subban, the league leader in goals-against average and save percentage, played Friday against the Rangers ... Barrie Colts phenom Aaron Ekblad is finally old enough to drive. The rookie defenceman turns 16 today ... Speaking of the Colts, Tanner Pearson has cooled off lately. The one-time OHL scoring leader has just four goals and four assists in his last 12 games and now trails Ottawa’s Tyler Toffoli by three points ... The Niagara IceDogs haven’t exactly missed Team Canada stars Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton. The ‘Dogs, who have skated past the Brampton Battalion to take over top spot in the Central, have gone 8-2-0 and are riding a three-game winning streak.


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