Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fronts: This is a holiday kiss, you Doug!

Josh Brittain has one hell of a tell.

The non-verbal cue that the ex-Kingston Frontenac gave near the tailend during a post-game interview with our own Tyler King on Friday is a lingering image from an all-time embarrassing weekend for Frontenacs owner Doug Springer. This presumes Springer, whom Save The Fronts has christened, "Doug Market Square," has any shame.

The latest debacle began with news the city of Kingston, which is in tough economically like most Ontario cities, is forking out a $600,000 "municipal subsidy" to the K-Rock Centre to make up the shortfall caused mostly by the Frontenacs' sluggish ticket sales. Springer's buddy, Kingston Mayor Harvey Rosen, added that the city is expecting even less revenue from Fronts ticket sales in 2009. As Kinger pointed out on his radio show (which is available for download):
"You're basically being forced to buy Frontenacs tickets because the city is taking your tax dollars and shovelling it over to make up for the fact that nobody's buying Frontenacs tickets. You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't."
That is taxation without representation. Taxes aren't being spent on what they should be going to and Kingstonians no longer have a team they are proud to have representing them. Far be it to suggest that a group of citizens should toss Springer and GM-for-life Larry Mavety into the harbour, or that a journalist should take off his shoes and throw them at Springer.

Springer's comeuppance was capped off with an 0-for-3 weekend, where the Fronts were outscored 17-7 and put themselves on pace for the lowest win total in franchise history. Word has also spread that they lost a top local player whom they drafted last season, 16-year-old forward Brock Higgs, who's elected to play college hockey at Canisius College.

To sum up to this point, they are in last place. They can't get a local talent to play for them. The city is throwing taxpayers' money at them.

Kingston needed a new arena like in 1980, but Springer has acted like a spoiled brat with his new $43-million-plus toy, reaffirming that he is, as TV Cogeco's Mark Potter put it a few weeks ago, the worst owner in the Ontario Hockey League. Teams go through lean times. Twenty-one seasons ago, the Canadians lost 28 games in a row. It is hard to imagine one that does it with such an air of cluelessness coming from the owner and The Royal Mavesty, who some wags have labelled as the owner's "pet dinosaur."

The scene at the K-Rock Centre Friday, when the Fronts lost 7-2 to the Barrie Colts, was an eye-opener for a first-time visitor. The K-Rock Pot gives off the vibe of one of those monstrous movie theatres set down next to a bunch of big-box stores. It is very comfortable, but there's no sense of history or shared experience, which is shameful, given Kingston's hockey history. How about huge lithographs of Kingston hockey legends -- Don Cherry, Kirk Muller, Gilmour, Ken Linseman, Jayna Hefford, Alyn McCauley, Jay McKee, Bill and Bun Cook, Fred O'Donnell, Jim Dorey, to cover those bare walls? The Ottawa Senators have the sweaters of area junior and minor hockey teams hanging in the 100-level concourse of Scotiabank Place, which does a great job of creating the vibe that it's a regional team and people who enter are part of something larger than themselves. At the K-Rock Centre, you're just getting the appearance that the team is Springer's play toy, or just another part of his business portfolio, a loss leader (which makes his periodic pronouncements of "whatever it takes" even more bile-raising).

There couldn't have been more than 1,700 people there (and even that's a couple hundred on the generous side) to watch the Fronts get hammered 7-2 by the Colts, with two of those goals coming from Brittain. It was Teddy Bear Toss night, so after Brittain got his second goal, a few fans tossed out stuffed animals. There's something about following hockey in Kingston that cultivates a sense of humour.

Anyway, so at the end of the game, Kinger had Brittain, the game's first star, for an interview at rinkside. A seasoned police interrogator -- the very kind the Kingston Police can't afford since the city cut money out of its budget and gave it to the K-Rock Centre -- or a psychologist could have a field day Brittain's non-verbal communcation. It's right at the 1:54-1:56 mark, after Kinger asks, "Final question for you: What do you think is the thing you're going to miss the most about being a Kingston Frontenac?"

As Brittain told Kinger and the TV Cogeco audience what he missed most about playing for the Fronts -- "I don't know, that’s a tough one. I, uh, can’t come up with anything" (which was telling enough) -- he reached up with his right hand and scratched his face.

Granted, it might not mean anything, but gestures like that can be indicative of when someone would rather not tell the whole truth. Brittain certainly has had his fill of having to be the teenage diplomat when it comes to his time with the Frontenacs, not wanting to say anything the least bit controversial that might get him labelled as having a bad attitude.

(As an aside, if there was any attitude problem, the Frontenacs created their own problem with the lack of boundaries. Brittain was a rookie in the 2007 playoffs when Mavety brokered a deal that let Bobby Hughes come back to the team after he quit between the third period and overtime of a playoff game.)

Peter Stevens, who went to Barrie with Brittain in that Dec. 3 trade, played it much the same way as Brittain when Kinger did a phone interview with him on the radio. Stevens, whose trade has meant it's open season on skilled players such as 17-year-old defenceman Taylor Doherty, simply called the Colts more "hockey-minded" -- so what are Kingston's minds on? -- and saying that he would miss the city itself.

The positives on the ice are fewer and farther between for the Frontenacs (7-22-6 with one game left before the holidays). Ethan Werek, amid all the losing, is at least demonstrating a scoring touch and perhaps should be the next player to take a turn wearing the captain's "C" under the Manchurian Coach, Dougie!. Werek accounted for three of the Fronts seven goals this weekend. Three of the other four came off the sticks off Werek's wingers, Andris Dzerins and Bobby Mignardi.

The Fronts had four different players score goals this weekend. Mississauga St. Michael's had six today in its 7-4 win over Kingston (the fourth time in six games that the Fronts have given up at least seven goals, ironically after they traded their best forward).

That is pretty thin gruel, especially given the success of the rival Belleville Bulls and the turnaround of the three other also-rans from last season. One can go on and on rhyming off facts and figures like an idiot savant, and what the hell, let's do that:
  • Second straight season with fewer than 10 wins before the holiday break;
  • No back-to-back wins yet this season;
  • The three non-playoff teams of last season, Erie, Owen Sound and Sudbury, are all contending for the playoffs;
  • Dead last in the 20-team in OHL on the power play and penalty kill;
  • Jérôme Dupont's record since taking over the Gatineau Olympiques: 9-5-1 (Dupont lobbyed for the Kingston job);
  • Doug Gilmour's record as Frontenacs coach: 2-9-1 (matching Bruce Cassidy's mark before he got the ax in 2007);
  • Seven wins in 35 games puts the Fronts behind the franchise record-low win total of the '87-88 Canadians, who won 14 of 66 games (and promptly had a new owner and new name the next season);
There's a word for this and it starts and ends the same way as the owner's name, with the letter D and the suffix er -- disaster. Here's hoping that in the New Year, the right people, at City Hall and in the media, start asking questions about how it went so wrong down in K-Town -- and whether it's too late to undo the damage done over the past decade.

Something is rotten. It's as evident as what Josh Brittain thought better of saying Friday night.

(Small mea culpa: George Lovatsis, of course, came over in an early-season trade, meaning that he didn't have to make the team in training camp, as some Kinger's honorary co-host -- me -- put it Friday. Granted, you could say he had to make the Barrie Colts in training camp and ultimately didn't, which is how he ended up in Kingston. A goof is a goof.

Last, but not least, the Frontenacs will honour play-by-play man on Jim Gilchrist on Wednesday. Gilchrist recently called his 2,000th OHL game.)

Arena profits way off, city told; Council eyeing reserves to offset shortcomings (Rob Tripp, Kingston Whig-Standard)
Brotherly love; Sibling's cancer puts hockey into perspective for Gudbranson (Doug Graham, Kingston Whig-Standard)


Robert C. said...

More reasons why I don't feel bad missing Frontenacs games. But I might drag my butt down to the Krock pot on Wednesday to see a game.

Like Tyler pointed out, I'm paying for it one way or another. :)

Anonymous said...

LOL this gets better and better all the time... send in the clowns!

bonafide jock sniffer