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Just come out and say it's about dollars and cents 0

By Gene Pereira, Special to QMI Agency

Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch, left, poses with London Knights head coach Dale Hunter, general manager Mark Hunter and governor Trevor Whiffen after Branch formally announced on Tuesday that London will host the 2014 Memorial Cup. The announcement was made during a news conference at London’s Budweiser Gardens, where the tournament will be played. CRAIG GLOVER QMI AGENCY

Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch, left, poses with London Knights head coach Dale Hunter, general manager Mark Hunter and governor Trevor Whiffen after Branch formally announced on Tuesday that London will host the 2014 Memorial Cup. The announcement was made during a news conference at London’s Budweiser Gardens, where the tournament will be played. CRAIG GLOVER QMI AGENCY

Ontario Hockey League commissioner Dave Branch will continue telling everyone that the Memorial Cup is open to all 20 teams.

That, no matter the size of the city or the facility they play in, everyone has a shot at hosting the Canadian Hockey League championship tournament.

It’s hogwash and he knows it.

It’s time he stopped this facade and stopped breaking the hearts of fans in cities like Barrie.

It’s time he tells the likes of Barrie, Owen Sound, Belleville, Sudbury, Sarnia, Peterborough, North Bay and other small- or medium-sized markets to not waste their money or time putting together a Memorial Cup bid.

It’s time that he comes out and admits that only larger communities like those in London, Windsor, Kitchener and Ottawa can host the event.

“I don’t know what else we can do,” said Colts co-owner Jim Payetta, obviously crushed after finding out Tuesday morning that London had won the bid over Barrie and Windsor to host the 2014 Memorial Cup.

“We put together a really solid bid,” Payetta said. “We put together a really solid financial guarantee. We demonstrated that we had the team. We demonstrated that we had the community behind us.

“We had the mayor at our presentation. We had support from the city,” he added. “I don’t know what else we can do. There’s nothing else we could have done to get it here.

“I’m at a loss as to why it isn’t here next year.”

Just say it, commissioner. The Barrie Molson Centre and its 4,195 seats are not big enough to host the Memorial Cup. That revenue is the key motivating factor when it comes to the decision and that eliminates the majority of OHL cities.

Instead, Branch continues this act that nobody is buying. After Ottawa hosted the 1999 Memorial Cup, things changed. The league recognized how much money they could make in a bigger facility.

Sure, Guelph got it in 2002, but they reportedly backed out of this year’s bid likely because they knew they had no chance.

Since then, it’s been Kitchener, London and Mississauga. All larger cities with larger facilities.

Yes, that’s the same Mississauga that has struggled with attendance for years. Then again, money talks. It’s been reported that the OHL got a guarantee from former Mississauga owner Eugene Melnyk to host the 2011 CHL tournament — believed to be between $2 million and $3 million.

It’s no coincidence that only three teams bid this year. Putting together a bid is an expensive and time-intensive undertaking, so why bother when you know you don’t stand a chance?

The Budweiser Gardens and its more than 9,000 seats are not the norm in the OHL. Across the CHL, Barrie is more representative of the community and the Barrie Molson Centre more representative of the facilities they play in.

Fine, you want to play in large venues. Then just come out and say it.

“No question the building in London is awesome,” Payetta said. “It’s an amazing arena and London is a great community. The location, right downtown, that’s great, but not all the 20 (OHL) teams have that.

“If that’s the way the criteria is going to be on a go-forward basis then I guess either all the other smaller communities are either going to have to build 9,000-seat arenas or take a look at whether or not they’re going to put in bids.”

It’s been a tough few hours for the Colts organization. They suffered a heartbreaking, last-second 3-2 loss in the seventh and deciding game of the OHL championship Monday night in London.

Hours later, they find out London has won the bid to host the 2014 Memorial Cup.

The Colts have been rejected five times now. Should they bother ever bidding again?

“It’s too early right now,” Payetta said when asked if this it for the Colts shooting to host the Memorial Cup. “We’re still kind of reeling from the loss in Game 7.

“It’s been kind of a tough 12 hours. Losing that game and then getting this news all in a 12-hour period hasn’t been a good half day.”

Talk about getting kicked when you’re down.

More to pile on?

Consider the league announced that they wouldn’t name the winning bid until the final between Barrie and London was over.

Well, the Knights found out they won the bid before Monday’s Game 7 contest. How’s that for a little boost going into a championship game?

Then again, the Colts faced a ton of adversity in their drive to the brink of an OHL title. The only other Colts team that comes close to the heart and character shown by this year’s club was back in 2002 when an underdog Colts squad under Bud Stefanski and led by Erik Reitz, David Chant and Blaine Down reached the OHL championship against Erie.

And this year’s club did it all while having to endure some of the most baffling disciplinary action and non-action by Branch and the OHL.

First, Ryan O’Connor was suspended 10 games for a check to the head that, well, wasn’t a check to the head.

Then, after turning a blind eye to blatant hits by both Belleville’s Jordan Subban and Joseph Cramarossa in the Eastern Conference final, the OHL suspended Colts star winger Anthony Camara for a questionable hit and kicked him out for the remaining two games of the OHL final.

Did we mention that Branch’s son, Barclay, is the assistant general manager of the Bulls?

Not to imply that this was favouritism, but it puts the president of a league and those under him in a tough position when they have to rule on disciplinary action involving the team of a close family member.

Just look at how Colin Campbell was put through the ringer regarding his son, Boston Bruins forward Gregory Campbell, and some disciplinary matters. Campbell ended up resigning his position as the NHL’s chief disciplinarian. 

Officials then turned a blind eye to a late, cheap shot by Josh Anderson that resulted in Barrie’s top player, and arguably the best player in the OHL, Mark Scheifele missing the seventh and deciding game of the OHL final.

Sure, the league reviewed it. Reason for Scheifele’s injury? The fresh ice at the start of the third period, according to the league. 

All this adversity and still, had Josh MacDonald’s shot off the crossbar in the dying minutes been just an inch lower, the Colts still might have been heading to Saskatoon for the Memorial Cup later this week. 

Credit the Knights, who fought back from a 3-1 series deficit, to win their second-straight OHL title.

Add Tuesday’s decision to go back to London again in 2014 and it’s no wonder there was a sombre mood around the city of Barrie.

“I’m very disappointed. We worked really hard at this,” Payetta said of their Memorial Cup presentation. “Obviously, I think they made the wrong choice. Barrie is the perfect community to put this in and I think the timing was perfect to put it here.

“We just proved we had a real strong team and we have the bulk of that team coming back next year, so I’m very disappointed by the decision but what can we do? You have to move on. We’ll just have to win (the Memorial Cup in London) next year.”

That the London Knights won the bid to host the 2014 Memorial Cup is not a surprise. Barrie winning it would have been.

Why?

Because that would mean awarding the CHL’s biggest tournament to a small market.

Because that would mean that revenue wasn’t the only important thing.

Because it would mean that every team in the OHL would have a chance to host a Memorial Cup.

The truth is, they don’t.

And the truth is what these teams and their faithful fans deserve.

Time to stop the B.S.

Gene Pereira covers the Barrie Colts for the Barrie Examiner.

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