Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fronts: Werek to Boston talk, Gilmour the closet Canadiens fan

Rest assured, the Kingston Frontenacs are still generating post fodder, even though it's the off-season and they haven't announced a trade or whether they have signed any draft picks beyond the first-rounder.

New England Hockey Journal has a look at whether Ethan Werek being drafted — irony alert! — by the Boston Bruins. Meantime, there's the ripple from coach Doug Gilmour telling Sun Media he would "one hundred per cent" want to work for Jim Balsillie if he brings a NHL team to Southern Ontario, right in the Toronto Maple Leafs' backyard.

It seems best to start with Werek, since it's less likely Fronts fans have seen it:
" 'He had a tough start to the year but really picked it up as things went along,' said another NHL scout, one who has followed Werek since his days with the Stouffville Spirit of the OPJHL. 'I think Doug Gilmour taking over behind the bench helped bring out the best in Ethan; he’s big, thinks the game well and has a quick release and accurate shot. He can both set up the play and finish it off, and he finishes his checks and plays with an edge.

" 'While his skating isn't the best, I wouldn't say that it's poor either. He could stand to get quicker, but he’s also showed that he can get there when he needs to.' "
The irony of Werek being a possible pick for the Bruins is that he was bound for Boston University before he opted to report to the Frontenacs.

As he has previously, Werek touched on why he didn't go to Boston U:
"Werek was picked ninth overall in the 2007 OHL Priority Selection by Kingston. At first, he spurned the OHL, determined to join legendary coach Jack Parker’s BU squad, even going the extra step to graduate from high school early. However, when there wasn’t enough room for him at BU in 2008-09 and, faced with another year of junior hockey, this time with Indiana of the USHL, Werek altered course and embraced the opportunity to play for one of the OHL's most storied franchises.

" 'It was a tough decision ... I wanted to go to BU and be a part of that great hockey tradition and outstanding academic institution. When things fell apart, and it was looking like I would have to play another year of junior hockey, it was just something that I felt would hurt my development. I give all the credit in the world to Coach (Jack) Parker and his staff; they were all extremely supportive and understood my decision, but it was one of the most difficult things I've had to do."
That does put the lie to any claim that Werek reporting was any validation for Frontenacs management (ignore the folderol about the Fronts being "one of the OHL's most storied franchises," since they are certainly in the top 20, keeping in mind the OHL has only 20 teams).

Incidentally, the article provides some material for the spin doctors in K-Town, noting "23 of the club's 40 losses were by one goal." That kind of ignores they lost 50 games when you count overtimes and shootouts. Really what 23-of-40 talk says is that this team was no good at winning tight games in the third period. Also, eight of their 18 wins were by one goal. Come to think of it, they won in overtime in Gilmour's debut, with Werek scoring the winner in the dying seconds, and beat London when Werek scored the tie-breaking goal with four seconds to play, on a crazy bounce. Thank goodness for randomness, or it might have been a 16-win season.

The hope, of course, is that the Frontenacs will be improved enough to at least treat Kingston fans to some playoff hockey at the K-Rock Pot next March (and maybe even the first week of April). Hope is tempered by being honest about the organization and not echoing the party line about Larry Mavety being an "astute hockey man" or landing the OHL All-Star game goes farther toward hosting a Memorial Cup than icing a competitive team.

(Owner Doug Springer, of course, said at the outset of last season the team's goal was "top four" in the Eastern Conference. Does this mean he won't celebrate if the Frontenacs finish anywhere from fifth to eight in the East and make the playoffs? Don't hold your breath.)

As for what Gilmour said, it was music to the ears to hear a decorated former Leafs captain say, "First and foremost I played for the Leafs ... but for hockey fans in this area it would be great. From the Leafs standpoint it would create a rivalry. I'm not here to go against the rules or start fighting with Gary Bettman. All I'm saying is that it could work. I don't see a downside." It shows he cares.

From a Frontenacs fan's perspective, though, it's just idle talk. The understanding all along, as it always is with a junior coach, is that if a NHL or AHL team comes calling, you pretty much bid him adieu and wish him good luck. It's the same as it is when a player moves up to The Show. Besides,Mark Potter noted on Kinger's radio show six months ago that pro teams would be quick to show an interest in Gilmour once he showed the barest sign of success. Meantime, he seems

It would be a hoot if Balsillie succeeds in moving a team to Southern Ontario and ends up having a couple former Leafs in the organization. It would be just like how the WHA Quebec Nordiques raided the Montreal Canadiens for players in the 1970s. A lot of dominoes have to fall for that to happen. Gilmour will be there in September ... beyond that, well uh, a man makes a contract with an eye to breaking it, not making it.

It has been 599 days since Doug Springer promised to do "whatever it takes" to bring a winner to Kingston.

(Digression: It's not clear if Gilmour necessarily was raised as a Leafs fan. Kingston was always Switzerland when it came to the Canadiens-Leafs rivalry. Geographic distance, general resentment toward the big city and a local conceit than Kingston was of a more discerning taste than other cities of similar size meant it was never really part of Leafs Nation. It had Leafs fans, Canadiens fans and lots of Boston fans, since the Bruins had a farm team there in the 1960s and there was a connection with Harry Sinden, Wayne Cashman, Don Cherry and Freddie O'Donnell having coached or played for Boston in the 1970s.

Gilmour was born in 1963, so he's too young to really remember the Leafs' last Stanley Cup, but he would have been coming of age while the Habs were winning six Cups in the '70s and the Leafs were mediocre, my how times have changed. The Whig-Standard once ran a childhood photo of him in full hockey gear, wearing a Canadiens sweater. Those colours don't run, just sayin.')

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