• By: Dave Gross

The best of the best in the OHL

Above: Brian Kilrea was the coach of the Ottawa 67's for 33 seasons. 

So, I’m pounding away on the treadmill at the gym inside the Kanata rec. complex staring at the wall Sunday afternoon.

Due to COVID, all the elevated TV’s are turned off (because, apparently, COVID and TV’s just don’t go together. Yup.) and the treadmills and elliptical trainers and stationary bikes are turned to face the walls. (You can’t make this stuff up people).

So (Part II), I have 40 minutes to stare at a very dull-white wall with nothing to distract my boredom. Just keep moving my feet.

I first tried recalling as many former Montreal Expos as possible from the 1970s, but once I got past Ellis Valentine, the jar was empty.

Then I launched into a much-more productive time-taker – junior hockey.

To bring you up to speed, I covered the Ontario Hockey League for the better part of 20 seasons.

Those years were split between Owen Sound and Ottawa. So (Part III): plenty of road trips with bad fast food but engaging conversations.

Those give-or-take-20-years were easily the best of my lengthy career as a writer and broadcaster.

The characters you meet are numerous. Hell, Sean Avery sat right behind me on the Owen Sound bus for two years. Boy, was that not quiet.

But I digress.

Back to the treadmill and my wall.

For the better part of my remaining 35-give-or-take-minutes, I conjured a list of some of my all-time favourite people in the OHL. They didn’t necessarily have to be all-stars, they just qualify because they were themselves – quality folks; guys who made a difference, on the ice and off of it.

Here’s my very personal list, which includes a quick explanation as to why. As a caveat, a lot of these hockey people you might not recognize, then again, there are plenty you will.

Since this is a pretty lengthy list, we’ll be splitting this bad boy into two parts.

Here’s numero uno. Part II is set for next week.



Brian Kilrea: Yeah, this was a tough one (insert winking emoji here). I remember the first time I met Killer. I’d just started at the Ottawa Sun (1999) and was assigned, by then sports-editor Tim Baines, to cover a few 67’s games. Tim suggested I head down to the Civic Centre and introduce myself. I was terrified. Killer? Rough and grumbly. Just the opposite. Brian was extremely welcoming and gracious. Funniest one-liners you’ll ever hear. A character man and proud to call him a friend.

Bert O’Brien and Vinny Malette: Long-time assistants to Brian. Extremely smart hockey minds. Terrific men who flew under Killer’s wings but were incredibly valuable. Quick one on Vince: We were in the Soo and preparing to fly back to Ottawa on owner Jeff Hunt’s rented light aircraft. Vince hated flying so we told him on the way to the airport to be prepared for a rocky, turbulent ride. You’ve never seen white ‘till you looked at Vinnie’s face.

Jerry Harrigan: Jerry was the toughest player in junior way back in the day. That’s according to Killer, so we’ll go with it. Most importantly, Jerry, who coached in Owen Sound in the 1990s, is my partner’s uncle. Since I want to get served dinner tonight, Jerry makes the list. Solid coach to be sure.

Dave Siciliano: The Professor ran the Platers a little after Jerry left. Dave, alongside colourful assistant Brian O’Leary (who also makes my list) lead the Platers to the West final in the spring of 1999. It was a helluva team, featuring future NHLers Adam Mair, Curtis Sanford, Joel Ward, Chris Minard and Danny Snyder. Dave was a class act. Always had time for the media (there were three of us . . . chuckle) even during tough sledding. A true gentleman. During our many golf outings, Dave dished out many, many mulligans. That’s gold.

Gary Agnew: As a fresh-faced colour voice on the Platers’ radio broadcasts, it was my job to talk to the visiting coach prior to game time. I cornered Ags prior to a game in Kingston (he was coaching the Fronts at the time), and asked him in my dead-serious-I’m-a-journalist-voice: “So, Mr. Agnew can you help me out by telling me who is your top line?”

Answer: “There all my top line, bub.”

He had dozens of ‘em.

Bert Templeton: As much as Vinnie Malette hated flying, Bert hated the media more. While in Barrie to face the Colts, my broadcast partner Fred Wallace volunteered to talk with Bert prior to game time. Fred knocked on the dressing room door and Bert poked his head out. “Can I talk to you about your team, Bert?” Fred asked.

Holding up a program, Bert shot: “You got one of these?!”

Head nod.

“Well that’s all you need then, right?!”

Door slam.

What a character.

Ric Tarasuk and Lenny Semplice: Still see Len now and again when we make the trip down to Pittsburgh (his hometown). These two were together in the early 1990s with the Platers. Ric’s kid played four seasons in the OHL (after being drafted by the 67’s). These two loved their hockey rough-and-tumble. Man, I despised that. (Insert winking emoji here).

Larry Mavety: A voice built from gravel. Mav is one of Killer’s best friends, and one of his biggest rivals after coaching for long stretches in Kingston and Belleville. A legendary story-teller. We need more Mav’s in the game. He’s old school. (But not that old).


Fred Wallace: Been the play-by-play voice in Owen Sound since the organization landed there, from Guelph, in the summer of 1989. Fred is not only a terrific game-caller, but he just might also be the funniest guy I’ve ever met. His knowledge of the OHL knows no equal. Except for me of course. (where’s that damn emoji).

Tony Ambrogio: Now with TSN, Tony was colour man for a number of years and subbed for Fred on occasion. Folks, he is one heckuva fellow and a very good friend. His knowledge of the OHL is slightly secondary to Fred’s (and tertiary to my own. Of course). Quick one: We’re in London to face the vaunted Knights. The coach at the time (unnamed here), stands up at the front of the bus as we pull into the arena lot and says: “We’ll meet with the forwards at 5:15 then the defence at 5:45!”

Being the hilarious guy I am, I cracked: “When will you be meeting with the media??”

Stony silence, then: “F— the media!”

Tony just looks at me, sighs as only Tony can, and shakes his head.

Don Cameron: Elegant and high-class. The 570 NEWS (Kitchener Rangers) play-by-play voice passed away a little more than two years ago. His stature is missed, greatly.

Larry Mellott: Guelph’s hockey voice has been to the Memorial Cup six times. He deserves a win for God’s sake. ‘Ya-gotta-luv-him-a-lot’ Larry Mellott.

Dave Schreiber: The Voice is also kind of the godfather of OHL play-by-play voices. How’d he get the nickname? Jimmy Ralph, of course.

AJ Jakubec: Another very good friend who went through a truly tough time health-wise this past year. He’s top-drawer now and Ottawa missed him. Nobody matches AJ’s exuberance, enthusiasm or enlightenment on all things pertaining to The Wire. One knock? He’s much too quiet on his opinions.

Jim Cressman: Long-time columnist and London Knights’ beat guy, Jim’s also a pro baseball umpire. Jim was one of the main go-to guys for info/dirt/gossip while scripting my infamous junior hockey columns at the Sun many moons ago. (‘infamous?’).

Matt Sekeres: Now owning the airwaves out in Vancouver, Matt started his writing career as a freelancer at the Sun. He quickly moved over to the Citizen and covered off the junior beat for a short time. Immense respect for Matt who leaves no stone unturned when breaking a story. Here in Ottawa, he did that many, many times. A real journalist.

Mike Davies: Long, long, long-time word-scripter at the Peterborough Examiner, Mike is and was an incredible source of proficient knowledge surrounding the ‘O.’

Next week: The players.