Tonight's the night for the surging tide that is the Kingston Frontenacs, the Ontario Hockey League team that yours truly has been just mild about since childhood. The regular season gets underway tonight against the Ottawa 67s, faceoff time 7:30 p.m. at the Kingston Memorial Centre.
The Fronts made a splash over the summer by bringing in coach Bruce Cassidy, who has NHL coaching experience (albeit with the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks). Cassidy is presiding over a team that has a ton of scoring punch backed by two solid goalies, veteran Danny Taylor* (veteran in OHL parlance means a 20-year-old overager) and promising Daryl Borden. For the first time since yours truly started following the team as a kid in the mid-'80s, there seems to be a bona fide buzz surrounding the Frontes:
- An "Eastern Conference favourite." -- Kingston Whig-Standard
- Should finish second in the conference. -- Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun
- "Contenders for league title." -- Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
It's a little disorienting to hear the Frontenacs talked about in such a fashion. This is no reflection on the current crew of Fronts, but typically it's always been the kind of team you figured you deserved for being from Kingston.
Kingston has a proud sense of history as a central place in the development of Canada and by extension, its national sport. Unlike most small Canadian cities, it still has a downtown bar scene. Delve into any aspect of Canadian culture and you'll find a Kingston connection, whether it's Don Cherry, uber-Canuck rockers The Tragically Hip (or more recently, Bedouin Soundclash), or Jayna Hefford scoring the winner in the women's gold-medal game for Team Canada at 2002 Olympics.
There's this other, seldom acknowledged side to it. Maybe every hick Canuck town is like this, but between flaunting its past and celebrating its most famous citizens, it's a dead and stagnant little burg. There's a lot of living in the past, with no great imperative to be a place that you want to be proud to call home.
The city's largest private-sector employer is a call centre, so if you're not hot on being a prison guard or having some other kind of government job, your career prospects are pretty limited. (That said, there are worse places to be a 20-something who is uncertain about a career path.)
The terminal do-gooders who opposed building a new downtown arena for the Frontenacs certainly had their reasons. Reading between the lines, you could see this resentment of anything that would challenge the culture of mediocrity, even if would line the pockets of rich folks.
The Frontenacs fit right into this this not-so-grand scheme, right down to the nickname that makes no sense to an out-of-towner. (Between the Frontenacs and the Queen's Golden Gaels, Kingston is a world leader in sports team names that always have to be explained.)
The franchise came into being in 1973 but has had more nicknames (3) than championships (1). Even that one banner is kind of embarrassing in and of itself. After winning the division in '94-95, the Fronts got a first-round bye in the playoffs and were promptly bounced in Round 2 by the rival Belleville Bulls. Every spring, when the Memorial Cup, Canada's national junior hockey championship, is held, yours truly tries to picture what it would be like if the Frontenacs ever made it... and draws a complete blank.
The Frontenacs aren't one of those junior teams who really reflect their town. Maybe Kingston is too sophisticated. It's not Brandon, Kamloops, or Peterborough, where boys dream of putting on that hometown sweater before graduating to NHL stardom. Heck, it's probably not a coincidence that the last two Kingston products to win the OHL scoring title -- Doug Gilmour in 1983 and Nate Robinson in 2002 -- both did so not for Kingston, but for nearby rivals (the old Cornwall Royals and Belleville, respectively).
Maybe this year is going to be different. Yours truly is long past the age where following junior hockey was the thing to do, but still plans on keeping tabs on the Frontenacs and trying to catch their visits to Ottawa when the work schedule permits.
There's this plaintive, little-kid hope that one of these years, the Frontenacs win the OHL title, or perhaps host the Memorial Cup. It would be one hell of a trip to see them shed that distinctive Kingston personality, but don't bet on it happening.
That's all for now. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.