These are good times for a Kingston hockey fan.
The Kingston Kimco Voyageurs, after a 4-2 Game 4 win last night over the Oakville Blades, are a win away from the Ontario Junior Hockey League title. Kingston-born Mike Murphy has backstopped the Belleville Bulls, the city's "spring team" since the one actually located in the city seldom makes it beyond the solstice, to the OHL Eastern Conference final for the third consecutive year. (Is it too early to talk about Murphy leading Bellevegas in an OHL final vs. Kingston's Taylor Hall and the Windsor Spitfires?)
Meantime, over in a forgotten corner of the toy department, the Kingston Frontenacs keep on keepin' on. In the midst of a recession, with a big building to fill, celebrity coach Doug Gilmour, has been nearly invisible in the city as they try to sell hope for 2009-10. The club is also set to apply its faulty, no-account approach to the OHL draft in a month's time. They're drafting No. 2 and it's hard to screw that up. One beauty of sport is sometimes you can succeed in spite of yourself. That's kind of been the basis for GM-for-life Larry Mavety's entire front-office career.
Granted, bringing the Springer Frontenacs into a discussion about the Voyageurs almost sees to cheapen their accomplishment. Of course, if owner Doug Springer had ever given fans something to celebrate as he has on promised multiple occasions, the Vees would not seem unique.
On Kinger's sports show on CFRC 101.9 yesterday, TVCogeco and K-Rock 105.7's Tim Cunningham said you'd have to go back to the old Kingston Aces senior team of the late 1960s and early '70s for the last time a local hockey team had the city in such thrall. And Tim is an apposite observer of Kingston athletics if ever there was one.
The Vees have three chances to close out the Blades, beginning with Game 5 on Easter Sunday in Oakville. Every contest has been a one-goal game so far, since Adam McAllister sealed Friday's game with an empty-netter with 15 seconds remaining (although Kingston had 2-0 and 3-1 leads). Goalie Shawn Sirman, who has committed to play college hockey at Maine last season, made 38 saves. Oakville's one win so far, in Game 3 last Wednesday, required 19-plus minutes of overtime after the Vees had wiped out a three-goal lead on the road.
Words fail, really, and speaking of fail, there's the Frontenacs. As Tim noted, Gilmour should be "a lot more visible in the community ... he's a great asset and I don't think he's being used appropriately."
In other words, Gilmour has been a ghost since the season ended. That seems like a strange tack to take with the legendary former Leafs captain. An astute hockey fan might remember that overworked flunky Jeff Stilwell tried to blame the team's attendance problems on the recession during that farcical appearance before Kingston city council in February, when they were called on the carpet to (wink) talk about their marketing plan. Gilmour's presence, people were told, would help bring out more fans, so why he is not front and centre trying to help the franchise maintain its base of fans? People everywhere, although Kingston is cocooned somewhat since it's a government/university town, are evaluating their discretionary spending.
Season tickets for an OHL team which gives a contract extension to its general mangler (not a typo) despite having lost 99 of its last 141 games doesn't offer the necessary bang for one's buck. Oh, and they've gone 11 seasons without even making it to Game 7 of a first-round playoff series, let alone the second round.
A sizable chunk of people who have devoted their attention to the Vees for the past few weeks are probably the same season-ticket holders who were disguised as empty seats on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons this past winter at the Kingston Ratepayer Centre. They wouldn't mind some further reassurances that Gilmour is committed. He's shown excellent potential as a coach, but the point remains that the Fronts need a lot more than smart coaching before people believe in the franchise again.
Writing on sportsnet.ca this week, Gare Joyce said that, "... a few jackals in the Toronto media suggested that (Gilmour) was a publicity Band-Aid solution for a foundering Frontenacs franchise, one-and-out."
Joyce is in the know, but a fan's reasoning is that hiring Gilmour was a PR move if there is no evident sign of changes to the franchise's management structure. The second is there is no reason to speculate if Gilmour is in Kingston, hitting the hustings and trying to sell hope.
Meantime, the OHL draft is in a month. The Frontenacs could hit a home run, but they'll be swinging with their eyes closed.
Doug Springer and Larry Mavety, who has tenure despite the failures of the past eleven-ure, have a pretty sweet setup with the draft. Their out is that the scouts make the picks. Mavety just rubber-stamps their recommendations, so it's not his fault. Gilmour is now supposed to have more say over decisions on players, which raises the question of why in the name of Sam Pollock Springer has given Mavety a new three-year contract.
(Today's Whig-Standard notes that Daryl Borden, whom Mavety once chanced a second-round pick on, has backstopped the Brantford Golden Eagles into the Ontario Junior B championship. Once again, Mavety helps build winners everywhere except with the team which employs him.)
It could be that one report this week the Fronts were committed to drafting a forward with the No. 2 pick was erroneous. One would hope so, since that's a stupid approach. You don't draft based on the makeup of the club's roster. You're drafting high because the team is deficient throughout, not just at one position, so take the best player. The Fronts, coming off a 50-loss season, can use help everywhere. You can never have too many good defencemen, even as 17-year-old Erik Gudbranson and 18-year-old Taylor Doherty are both off at the world under-18 tournament.
The team could be headed toward another manifestation of their obsession with taking a "big guy who can score" instead of a top-end defenceman, even though the latter is a must-have in the OHL. In 2005, Mavety's scouts took Luke Pither (undrafted by the NHL, but having a good playoffs with, wait for it, Belleville) ahead of Drew Doughty, now a regular for the L.A. Kings at 19 years old. In '06, the scouts took Josh Brittain (a NHL fourth-rounder) ahead of future Atlanta Thrasher Zach Bogosian, who played in the NHL this season at age 18.
The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds will take Daniel Catenacci No. 1, since he's a speedy forward and an Italian, which will play well with the paisans in the Soo. Kingston defenceman Scott Harrington, who's moved up to the Vees for the playoffs, will be available, as is another d-man, Justin Sefton from the Kitchener-Waterloo area.
It's not some ass-talker's place to say who the Fronts should take. Then again, it shouldn't be Larry Mavety's place to say it either. Long post short, the Vees are a win away from a championship, and it's not clear who's steering the ship known as the HMCS Royal Mavesty.
It has been 536 days since Doug Springer promised to do "whatever it takes" to bring a winner to Kingston. Having three former Fronts on the Voyageurs doesn't count.
(The photo of Budd Light is not gratuitous. The character in those beer commercials is played by an actor named Ryan Farrell who once played provincial Junior A hockey in Calgary, whereas Mike Farrell -- same surname! -- scored the game-winner for the Vees on Friday. It is totally relevant to the narrative.)