Spitfires fined $400,000, lose draft picks

The Windsor Spitfires organization was fined $400,000 by the OHL for recruitment violations....

The Windsor Spitfires organization was fined $400,000 by the OHL for recruitment violations. (Michael Purvis/QMI Agency/Files)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:51 PM ET

The knocking you are hearing may be the knees of Ontario Hockey League general managers, knocking with fear as they find out the hammering the Windsor Spitfires took from the league for cheating.

It was inevitable that someone in the OHL was going to get caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Over the years the OHL has managed to lure many top-notch young players from U.S. collegiate ranks. The OHL teams will tell you that their reputation as the best hockey development league in the world is the biggest lure, but that their rather generous school packages guaranteeing a player has his post-secondary school education paid for if he doesn't make the pros is another reason players defect from the collegiate ranks.

No one is suggesting all the defections are caused by a brown envelope slipped under the table but it would be disingenuous to believe everything is totally above board. It's a situation of the rich-get-richer.

The OHL must have believed the same thing because in 2009 they established an enforcement program and they caught their biggest fish when they netted the Spitfires.

The OHL investigated two separate incidents and then brought the hammer down.

The Spitfires were fined a total of $400,000 and will forfeit first-round draft selections in 2013, 2014 and 2016 and second-round choices in 2015 and 2017.

"The league conducted two separate investigations ... after considering all the facts, I was persuaded that the Windsor Spitfires Hockey Club violated the league's player benefit and recruitment rules and policies," OHL commissioner David Branch said. "While the penalties may appear to be severe, the league and its member teams recognize for any such violations of our recruitment/benefit rules and policies, we must send a strong message to preserve the integrity of our league."

The league won't release any other information, such as what players were involved or what the actual violations where.

"This is not about players, this is about the Windsor Spitfires hockey club," Branch said. "We hope to keep the focus on them. What I can't suggest is what Windsor may choose to say at the end of the day nor do I want to put a muzzle on them."

Branch said the investigation took "just over a year."

Branch went on to say the league has looked into a number of situations since 2010, when Ken Miller was hired as director of security and no other investigation until this one was conclusive.

There is no question Miller will be a busy dude, especially since the long list of players who make U-turns in a hurry is significant.

Earlier this summer the Michigan Daily, a student newspaper at the University of Michigan, wrote a story that quoted an anonymous source indicating the Kitchener Rangers offered Winnipeg Jets prospect Jacob Trouba $200,000 in lieu of an education package to play for the Rangers. The Rangers are suing the newspaper for libel, claiming the information is false.

"The league did look into that," Branch said. "That is an example of concerns that as teams collectively we have had. We instructed an officer to investigate, which he did do. He was thorough and his recommendation was there was no substance to the allegations."

There will be plenty of cheering with the league's decision. It isn't just the fact Windsor was caught. It's the fact a "have" team got caught. The OHL is a funny organization. Behind the scenes, have-not teams complain about the have teams bending the rules and using their wallets to attract the best players.

The usual subjects of the behind-the-back complaining are Windsor, London, Kitchener, Plymouth among others. That's often where the top players eventually wind up.

But when it comes to publicly calling teams out, no one does it for fear they will be frozen out of the OHL brotherhood. Still, many teams wouldn't mind seeing the big boys slapped around.

The ruling against Windsor is a landmark decision. It's going to make life uncomfortable in the world of brown envelopes in the OHL because it's going to be more difficult to get them delivered.

Oh yeah, it also proves that brown envelopes indeed exist.

SPITFIRES RESPOND

"We are in receipt of the decision by the Ontario Hockey League regarding the Windsor Spitfires hockey club and completely deny all accusations that have been put forward. It is the team's position that there is no evidence to support this decision, nor did the league follow due process or its own rules regarding procedural fairness in the making of this decision.

"We will pursue all avenues of appeal regarding the decision made by the commissioner, David Branch. We are proud members of the Ontario Hockey League and will be vigorously defending the well-deserved and established reputation of our hockey club as an exemplary organization both on and off the ice, through the appropriate appeal process.

"We will have no further comment until the appeal process is complete, in which we are confident will result in this decision being overturned."

Team statement

E-mail morris.dallacosta@sunmedia.ca, or follow MoDaCoatLFPress on Twitter.


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