Saturday, August 11, 2012

Branch Shoots Down Spitfires

Friday was a huge day in the Ontario Hockey League and quite possibly for the entire structure of North American amateur hockey. David Branch, the President of the Canadian Hockey League and Commissioner of the OHL, dropped a bomb on the Windsor Spitfires in the form of massive fines and the stripping of several high end draft picks. 

The official statement released by the OHL can be read here. Media friends of TPS wrote several fantastic features on the subject and a couple of them will be on the show as guests later this Saturday morning. Neate Sager from Yahoo! and Buzzing the Net can add to this piece written by Cam Charron

TPS regular Patrick King's story can be found at

Chris Peters offers the American based perspective and it's a terrific read. You can find that here and he'll touch on it with me on the radio this morning as well.    

After the jump, I'll offer my own initial thoughts which are more about, "What happens next?"

Photo: CHL Images
My first thought when I heard the news was "I never thought I would see the day." After all, it seems like it's been three or four years since David Branch announced the hiring of his rules enforcement watchdog but until yesterday, you couldn't tell. Until Friday, nothing had ever been reported that indicated such a watchdog even existed. I don't think anyone can wonder about that any longer. 

The incidents that have cost Windsor $400K and 5 draft picks (and a boatload of embarrassment) were from around 2010. My next thought was why it took so long or if two years is just the normal length such investigations take? 

Are there other reasons it all came down now? Is it because those players are no longer in the league so the dirty laundry has leaked out? Does the timing have anything to do with the current lawsuit between Kitchener and the Michigan Daily?   

But more importantly for me, my mind soon turned to the future. 

Windsor has denied the charges and will appeal. If the charges stand up and the Spitfires take the hit, who's next? Windsor isn't going to go down quietly and if they start swinging it could get ugly. Do they start pointing the finger and saying "What about them??" to other clubs in the league?

As Patrick King mentioned in his story, it's been long talked about that the bigger market teams in the OHL have been circumventing rules including the OHL priority selection for years. 

Does this spill over into the QMJHL and WHL? Are QMJHL and WHL Commissioners Gilles Courteau and Ron Robison going to have to take an even closer look at clubs in their own league which have been rumored to be... "rule benders"? Saint John, Quebec, Moncton, Kelowna, Portland... 

What sort of long term affects could we see develop around American players coming to the CHL? Will we see changes to the CHL Import Draft?

I had a chat with another media colleague earlier today who shared many of these same thoughts and questions. He made a great point about Branch. 

Friday's penalty on Windsor was a landmark day for the CHL. David Branch has been at the head of the OHL since the late 1970's and the CHL since 1996. Is this a defining moment, perhaps the exclamation point on his long career or could it be a decision that ultimately ends it? 

Will the coming shit storm, and I can't see how there won't be one, become so great that it ultimately changes the structure of the CHL?  

To quote Samuel L. Jackson: "Hold on to your butts". This is going to get very interesting and I expect, very ugly.      

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