TORONTO - The Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors came close to making their push for the playoffs with their defacto leader watching from the stands.
But the Majors caught a fortunate break when captain Stuart Percy returned to action after missing more than 20 games with a concussion and neck issues, the result of a double-team collision with Kitchener Rangers Andrew Crescenzi and Ben Thompson in mid-December. Percy, a first-round pick of the Maple Leafs last June, has played three of the Majors last five games — he was scratched Friday against the Belleville Bulls due to the flu then played Sunday against Brampton — and is apparently 100% healthy.
But it wasn’t too long ago that the Majors seriously considered shutting Percy down for the season, which would have hurt the team’s chances of making the playoffs but given the 18-year-old a few more months to fully recover.
“There was definitely some thought because when you get into that grey area ... there was a couple of weeks there where he wasn’t making any progress,” Majors coach/general manager James Boyd said. “Our medical staff was on top of it and worked hand in hand with the Leafs. (But) you’ve got to decide at what point are we going to abandon the season for his health?
“Fortunately he made some great strides there and came back and we were able to ease him back into the lineup. With concussions it’s a strange game. We leave the decisions to the medical staff but it was in limbo for a while.”
Like most teams, the Majors were initially coy about the extent of Percy’s injury and stopped short of calling it a concussion. But Boyd said that was more because his more serious issue, the concussion, didn’t manifest itself right away. He was first diagnosed with whiplash but then, when his neck began healing, the headaches started.
“The original diagnosis was a mild concussion but more a neck injury,” Boyd said. “And as time went on he was getting headaches. He had a concussion at training camp with the Leafs and (you wonder if) this is starting to become a big problem here. The neck injury took some time to heal but the concussion lingered. (Now) we’re absolutely sure he’s 100%.”
Percy’s been very good (four goals, 18 assists and plus-14) when he’s played but a variety of injuries, most notably the concussion and a leg problem that was a result of a hit from behind by Plymouth forward Mitchell Heard, have limited him to just 28 games. But now that he’s been cleared to play, and I would suspect is feeling as healthy as he has all season, Percy won’t be coddled.
“Any time you can add a player of that magnitude at a key time of the season, it’s a big boost,” Boyd said. “The time off may have been a blessing in disguise with some of the other injuries he had.”
The Majors, in a four-way battle for the Eastern Conference’s last three playoff spots with Belleville, Oshawa and Peterborough, will likely ride Percy hard in their final six games. That’s what thoroughbreds are for, after all.
GOOD AND BAD
Sure, it was great to see Erie Otters forward Connor Crisp put the team ahead of himself by volunteering to play in goal Sunday against the high-flying Niagara IceDogs.
When Crisp offered to play after goalie Ramis Sadikov was hurt less than two minutes into the games — he had to use borrowed equipment and Sadikov’s too-small skates — he displayed the character traits you hope to see in every player. He set himself up to be humiliated, or worse injured, playing a position he was completely unfamiliar with.
And, yes, it left plenty of people with smiles, celebrating a feel-good story that ended with a touch of class when Crisp was named the first star of the game despite giving up 13 goals on 45 shots.
But it should never have come to that.
Teams at this level of hockey simply don’t show up for a road game with one friggin’ goalie. That’s as bush league as it gets.
The Otters, one way or another, should have brought a second goaltender to Niagara. By not doing so, Otters owner/general manager Sherry Bassin embarrassed himself, his organization, the IceDogs and the OHL and hung Crisp out to dry in the process.
Bassin found himself without a second goalie after backup Devin Williams, who was hurt Friday, failed a concussion test “late” Saturday night. Two prospects, Adam Wood and Corey Foster, were unavailable.
That, Bassin said, left only Option C, Connor Crisp.
“I studied our alternatives based on the 2000 or so games I’ve been involved in. This turned out to be a bad decision,” Bassin said in a statement on the team’s web site. “I accept full responsibility and apologize publicly for the embarrassment to the league and the sport of hockey that I love. I have deep respect for our league and sport.”
Regardless of how Bassin feels after the fact, the league needs to act to prevent this from happening again.
The Otters must be punished for making a mockery of the game, never mind putting a 17-year-old who hadn’t played since the pre-season due to a shoulder injury into such a tenuous position.