Junior hockey keeps us going

Reprint contributed by Ross Brewitt 

Seems the only light at the end of the hockey tunnel these days is the upcoming World Junior Championship beginning on Dec. 26. I can’t wait.

It would be a joyous occasion except for the surmised threat of the NHL raising its droopy and disorganized eyelids and suddenly deciding on playing a 48-game season after all.

Meaning, Hockey Canada finds itself at the selection crossroads, one that involves a very strong team with at least seven NHLers and a few more top prospects included in the 36 invitees for their selection camp. In case you weren’t aware, only 23 roster players can be designated for the final lineup submitted. No replacements allowed.

It would be just like the NHL, sucky, entitled spoil sports that they are, to want their youngest bodies back in harness for the one week training camp and get them out on the road for the phony season.

Meaning, if the NHL belches and hiccups into life, and teams follow through on demanding their on loan players return to the parent club, the Team Canada bench might resemble the numbers required for a full roster beer-league team.

While the Leafs have OK’d the loan of defenceman Morgan Rielly for the duration, it’s unlikely examples like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jonathan Huberdeau won’t be called home.

What to do? Hope the NHL continues to keep their heads and feet stuck in places they don’t belong.

And suddenly it came to me while pencil-doodling, phone tucked into my shoulder, on hold for an Internet techie. Listening to the canned music of what sounded like a rap version of Beer Barrel Polka, I marveled at all the fine junior hockey players I’ve had the pleasure of watching in my time around the game.

I have to admit I have no recollection of seeing the Port Arthur West End Bruins back in the Lakehead. They won the Memorial Cup in 1948, with Dave Creighton, Danny Lewicki, Rudy Migay and Benny Woit going on to play in the NHL. Hey, the PA Arena was far enough away from Fort William to require packing a lunch for the streetcar journey, not to mention the prohibitive 10-cent fare.

But I do have a hazy recall for watching Alex Delvecchio play for the Fort William Hurricanes the very next year, before he left the Lakehead for the Oshawa Generals, a cup of coffee with Indianapolis, then to the Red Wings and his first of three Stanley Cups, in 1951. From junior to NHL champion in the space of three seasons.

But 15 years later, on our family’s arrival in Toronto, the list of remarkable junior stars began their parade. Gil Perreault, Derek Sanderson, Denis Potvin, Mike Palmateer, Guy Lafleur and Wayne Gretzky. It continued into the present here in Guelph where I recovered from knee surgeries and enjoyed watching two more L.A. Stanley Cup winners develop in the Storm’s Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty.

Also passing through were the Staal brothers of Thunder Bay, John Tavares, and more recently, Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall, and Nail Yakupov.

As I point out to anyone who will listen or read, junior hockey in Canada is what college football is in the U.S. For the most part, the 60-team Canadian Hockey League is the only game in town.

Because it’s Brandon, Owen Sound and Victoriaville, where Dad comes home from work and the entire family heads straight to a hotdog/hamburger dinner and a game. It’s Belleville, Kamloops and Swift Current, where hockey night in Canada is the junior variety, and the boys play for all the right reasons.

Yes, I know the NHL is better, I’ve been around it for over 40 years and I’m aware of the differences. But, with another dark season in the works, it’s nice to know junior hockey is still minding the store.

Junior hockey is Canadian, and entertainment a family can afford.

Get out there and watch ’em.


Originally published as a Special to The Chronicle Journal, Friday, December 14, 2012.

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