Stick around long enough and you might make some friends
With NHL play in total lockdown for the foreseeable future, we’re dipping into the junior ranks once again this week.
Last session, as you might recall, I pasted together a list of my all-time favourite coaches and broadcasters and writers that I’ve come across in the 25-plus years in which I’ve covered the Ontario Hockey League.
It was a lengthy list.
That revolving door in the OHL is a pretty frantic one. Players come and players go. Some stay for a season or two, most are here for three, and a few more last four and – rarely – five winters.
Here’s some of the lads who’ve made an impact on this writer. A brief summation is included.
Alphabetical order here people.
JEREMY AKESON: The king of 67’s banter. If you don’t believe me, ask former trainer/storyteller Brian Patafie. These guys wouldn’t shut up (God bless ‘em).
SEAN AVERY: At the time, whilst with Owen Sound, the most hated player in junior hockey (morphed into the most hated player in the NHL . . . we call it: progression). From the media’s perspective, Sean was gold, Jerry, gold! Best quote and feeder of gossip in the circuit.
RODNEY BAUMAN: One day Patafie (see above) made the grave mistake of challenging Rodney to a winner-take-all wrestling match. Rodney took it all. Heart and soul fellow.
BRENDAN BELL: This big booming voice came from behind my back outside the locker room: “Hello Mr. Gross!” I spin around expecting to see a large man in his mid-40s, instead it’s a slim Brendan Bell in his first year as a 67. Just 16-years-old. BB is one of my absolute favourite juniors. His growth as a player was phenomenal, eventually winning CHL defenceman of the year and – as captain – leading Ottawa to the OHL finale against a stacked Kitchener team in 2003 (the Rangers would roll on to win the Memorial Cup with talent like Derek Roy, Andre Benoit, David Clarkson, Gregory Campbell and Mike Richards).
DAVID BELL: Took on all comers during a fight-heavy era in the OHL. A consummate leader. Smart, smart hockey guy. A cherished and prized 67, in Killer’s (Brian Kilrea) eyes.
PETER CAMPBELL: The pride of Blackburn Hamlet played an instrumental role in pushing Owen Sound far in the playoffs of 1999. Terrific sense of humour and was an absolute steal of a deal for the Platers getting him from Sudbury . . . 48 goals later, he’d found his mark.
RYAN CHRISTIE: Part of that terrific priority selection of 1995 for the Platers. ‘Sticks’ was a rookie of the year candidate with his 29 goals. Best story (I can tell it now, right, Ryan?): When best friend and teammate Ryan Davis was traded to Guelph in ‘97, Ryan I and Ryan II found themselves tangled up with each other in front of the net and quickly dropped the mitts. They both didn’t realize who they were scrapping with until well into the tussle. True story.
LOGAN COUTURE: If you’re searching for a prototypical Ottawa 67, go no further. Hockey sense coupled with immense skill . . . well, I think we know the rest of the story. Logan’s favourite team growing up? Buffalo. Now THAT’S some quality trivia right there. Bringing it, like Lloyd Braun, baby!
RYAN CROWTHER: He left us far too soon. Ryan passed about three years ago but left a ton of memories. One of the few to skate for both Ottawa and Owen Sound. We miss you buddy.
RYAN DAVIS: Part of the Platers best draft in history (1995: Mair, Snyder, Christie, Davis, Gallace). ’95 was all about grit and character. Ryan had bucket-loads.
RAY EDWARDS: Now an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames, Ray was the Owen Sound organization’s first true heavyweight. A real character who absolutely loved the game. Still does, I imagine.
MATT FOY: How prolific a scorer was Matt? He bagged 61 goals in 68 regular season games in 2003 with Ottawa. The ultimate scorer (with great thanks to linemate Corey Locke). Also an extremely underrated chirper.
AARON FRANSEN: Could have played in the NHL but went the scholastic route instead. Aaron was simply a brilliant guy – and gentleman. The Ottawa native came to the Platers in the Avery deal to Kingston . . . me-thinks his pal Dan Snyder had something to do with the trade. Led the Platers to the West final. Should have been in the conversation for D-man of the year in ’99.
STEVE GALLACE: Best hockey parents? Make it a tie between the Platers’ Steve’s – his parents drove up from London, Ont. seemingly for every game and brought home-made lasagna for their favourite media types (. . . usually Tony Ambrogio) – and Russ Moyer’s folks (more below).
LANCE GALBRAITH: Definitely a Top-5 on Killer’s list of prized 67’s. Smallish in stature, Lance was like the Tasmanian Devil. Most amusing sight was watching Peterborough’s monster Matt Carkner try, game after game, to chase down Lance. Never caught him. More importantly, like buddy Zenon Konopka (see below), Lance shone when the money was on the line. In 2001 when Ottawa stunned the league by capturing the OHL title, Lance tied teammate Joe Talbot for the scoring title in the playoffs.
MICHAEL HANSON: Pound-for-pound, the toughest hombre in the ‘O’ during his day. Made that tiny Sarnia rink seem much smaller; no place to hide.
AL HEPPLE: Now Colorado’s director of amateur scouting, ‘Hep’ was a hard-rock for years on Killer’s blueline at the start of the 1980s. Was a frequent visitor to the media box at Plater games (he’s an Owen Sounder). Good to see a good guy do so well.
TIM HIGGINS: Super hockey talent in Ottawa then the NHL; better life-leader. Higgy roomed with Bobby Probert whilst with Detroit. He still won’t share the stories.
ZENON KONOPKA: Tell Zenon – the former 67 – he can’t accomplish something, and he’ll go out and prove you wrong. Case in point – playing in the National Hockey League.
SEAMUS KOTYK: Was the backbone and backstop behind Ottawa’s run to the Memorial Cup in ’01. Thoughtful and poised, one of the league’s better people and interviews.
JASON MacDONALD: Owen Sound’s precursor to Sean Avery. Mac drove the opposition and his own coaching staff nuts. Another great gabber for us media types.
ADAM MAIR: That NHL rivalry between Mair and Chris Neil spilled over to the NHL from the OHL. Adam was with Owen Sound, Chris with North Bay. Every game they faced each other was a war. (More on this in the Neil profile below). Mair was the penultimate competitor.
KEVIN MALCOLM: Another solid acquisition by Kilrea, grabbing the overage from Sarnia in ’99. Kevin slid onto Ottawa’s top line with Mark Bell and Dan Tessier. Instant chemistry. A Bryan Allen elbow ended hopes on what should have been a lengthy playoff run. Class act and a good friend of Fransen’s.
KIRK MALTBY: The Platers’ first legit star. Like many, a prolific scorer in junior who found his spot as a checker in the NHL. Good fellow – bought me a pop once.
LUKAS MENSATOR: Pure class and immense talent. Limited size didn’t seem to make a difference in Ottawa.
RICK MORTON: Huge heart and a willing combatant. One of the nicest guys you’d meet . . . off the ice. Came over to the Platers in a trade in 1990 and found a home.
RUSS MOYER: His parents would disown me if I left Russ off the list. And we can’t be having that. This 67 was as smooth as silk on his blades.
CHRIS NEIL: Another true story: Buffalo’s in town to face the Senators in the early 2000s. I run into my old friend Adam Mair (see above) at the morning skate. “Hey, Adam, you ready to face Chris Neil . . . again?” Pause, answer: “THAT guy made the NHL?!” True to form, Neil and Mair led the charge in a bench-clearing brawl. Neil was the OHL’s version of the Swiss army knife, need a goal? You got it. Need me to get in someone’s face? You got it. Suffered through some pretty awful teams in North Bay and yet, thrived.
ADAM SMYTH: Entered the league with Bauman and immediately gave the 67’s some much-needed jam. In the post-season, the 67’s were facing coach Steve Ludzik’s Mississauga IceDogs in ‘03. Adam was suspended so he’d perch up in the stands donning his wide-brimmed cowboy hat and cast an eye on practice. Ludzik was incensed and asked the league to ban him as Adam was “ogling” his players with bad intent. Yup. Also scored one of the team’s biggest goals, firing an overtime winner in Game 1 of the OHL finale in Kitchener. Great teammate. Ask Corey Locke.
DAN SNYDER: Anyone who knows me knows this: Dan Snyder was the best guy in junior hockey, bar none. Greatly missed.
BRAD STAUBITZ: One of Killer’s best trades – Staubitz came over from the Soo in 2005 and (oddly enough?) every skater on the 67’s grew about 10 inches. Underrated radio guest as well (just query Garry Galley).
JEREMY VAN HOOF: Still amazed Jeremy never landed a look in the NHL. Guy was a stud blueliner. Possibly the best defensive defencemen these eyes witnessed in junior.
SCOTT WALKER: A sixth-round pick of the Platers in ’91, the under-valued Walker went on to play – effectively – 829 NHL games. As honest as they get.
STEVE WASHBURN: Just ‘cause I worked with his brother – former stick boy David Washburn (now a media legend).
KEVIN WEEKES: So the story goes: When Weekes was the starter in Owen Sound, a glut of us would sit in the final row of the stands and chant “Weekes! Weekes! Weekes!” after every stop. Coach Jerry Harrigan would give us the hairy eyeball . . . likely thinking we were making his goalie extra-cocky. Kevin was a Plater and a 67 and is somewhat of a media mogul now as a featured analyst on the NHL Network. I just put him on here in hopes of scoring a job with the network. Boy, I’m a riot.
Photo: Dave Gross