Jr A Primer in Ontario
With the OJHL Governors Showcase wrapping up, it is a perfect time to now get into the Jr A Primer that is the OJHL. The OJHL is a league that has been through a lot lately. It was the best option for Jr A in the province, producing several top end NCAA players and even some great NHL talent. Then it became oversaturated with way to many teams, as anyone with a chequebook could own a team. Sound familiar? And then a mandatory-volunteer contraction brought the league to its current landscape before a franchise that would enter its 50th season fold weeks before the season began. Add in a consistent commissioner in Marty Savoy who had experience in Hockey Canada and a franchise move with division re-alignment and a new interlock schedule and you have the current landscape of the OJHL.
With all of these changes and with having followed the league for several years now, lets take a look at the positives and the negatives.
- Governors Showcase – Even though this is a fantastic event that is put together extremely well. I dislike it so much. I dislike that it is a Monday-Wednesday event. I dislike that it isn’t for the fans, when your showcase should be. And I dislike the notion that scouts have to pay to get in. There was a tweet floated around that it cost scouts $75 to get in a day. A little bit ridiculous if true. Who knows, maybe you get unlimited access to Gatorade and Papa John’s pizza. But the point being, when you run a showcase, you should get more fans out, because it is for them too. Otherwise don’t make the games count towards the regular season.
And if you are going to point out that the NOJHL showcase is also a mid week event, I am fully aware, but given the size and exposure of the two leagues, it is a negative for the OJHL.
- Daddy’s – The league was filled with ‘Daddy Owners’ who bought the team for 1 or two years, demanded that their kid play in prime positions and get key ice time in hopes they get a scholarship. The owner would then sell the team to the next dad, rinse and repeat. Give Marty Savoy a lot of credit here, he wiped out a lot of daddy owners with the contraction, and then made a concerted effort to weed out more. However, there are still too many floating around. To be honest 1 is too many. Their decision making will always be questioned and have a hint of, ‘did you do that for your son’.
- Wide Footprint – This is one thing I love about the OJHL. It expands far. From east to west you have a good 4-hour drive from Kingston to Buffalo. Even if you wanted Georgetown to Trenton, it is only 2 hours and change. The fact that you have quality divisions and conferences that hold their weight is great when it comes to building minor hockey in these local areas.
- Midget programs – Even though there is no official affiliates between Midget hockey and Jr A hockey in the OJHL area, you do have coaches or GM’s who have ties to both a Midget program and an OJHL franchise. A few years ago you had Jason Fortier be the Coach of the Toronto Patriots (who won the Dudley Hewitt Cup) and the Coach for the Toronto Nationals Midget team (who went to the Telus Cup). Many teams have unofficial affiliations as well. Like Mississauga Chargers and the Mississauga Reps. If there was a way to make it official like the CCHL. This would be a huge step in the right direction.
- Save the Drama – This is a reoccurring theme and a big negative. Every year you have some manager, coach, player, owner, parent, causing a big kerfuffle and causing the league to protect its member teams. Not unlike the situation in Flint in the OHL, the OJHL has had to work some damage control with a few franchises. Hopefully this year will be drama free.
- The Most players developed – This is something to be touted by the OJHL and rightfully so. They produce more developed players than any other league. Sure the percentage isn’t the highest, considering you have a huge number of players vs other leagues, but player-by-player, they are the best at it. Most D1 commitments, most advancement to the OHL, many to CIS, even to some Pro. If you play in the OJHL you have a fantastic opportunity to excel and move on to the next level.
- Lack of parity – Last negative I promise. In the 15/16 season, you had two teams with 10 W’s or less, that is a 210 wining percentage, take it to 15 wins or less and you have 4 teams under a 400 winning percentage. In 14/15 you had 5 clubs under a 400 winning percentage. 3 of those 5 teams in 14/15 are the same 3 from the 15/16 season. In the 13/14 season you had 4 teams under the .400 W % but none of them were the same as the 15/16 season. But 2 of those teams were the same as 14/15. What does this mean? Well nothing really, but it shows that teams need about 2 years to rebuild their program into a 500-club minimum. That isn’t good. And yes it isn’t the league’s fault that some owners, GM’s or whoever are bad at judging talent or recruiting, it happens to everyone in any sport at every level.
- Rule Changes – I love this as they are always trying something new. Whether it is the 4 on 4 OT, the 2OT, moving to full-face shields, helping to remove unnecessary fighting in the game or whatever other changes they have done. They have made the changes to improve the game at their level, in their territory and you see how the play has elevated because of it. Coaches have to adapt, players have to evolve, GM’s need to be creative and Owners have to be all in.
The OJHL is a fine league that develops top talent. Having the GTA in your backyard is a blessing and a curse. You have a vast player pool to choose from but you have empty arenas.
But again, in the end, the league may be slowing down in momentum as the NOJHL and the CCHL catch up or pass the league but it is quality every night with some great coaches and GM’s. Don’t sleep on the league if you have a chance to see a game. And if you are bored, go check one out in an arena near you.
Like the other primer articles I will attempt to chat with Commissioner Savoy. He is a tough man to get a hold of but hopefully he can make time to chat about the good, bad and ugly with the league.