Wow, that was close. The Kingston Frontenacs almost had to play hockey in April.
Some, albeit no one with a shred of objectivity, were ready to call the season a Mav-ssive success long before the Fronts faceplanted with a 5-2 loss to the Brampton Battalion in Game 7 of their first-round series on Tuesday.
Another response, once we get past the banging-your-head-against-wall stage, is to laugh like hell, an emotion that's often been provoked during the dismal dozen seasons Doug Springer has owned the team. To sum up, the Frontenacs are the only top seed in the OHL playoffs to lose in the first round this spring. Only one of the other seven went more than five games in their series. Barrie, Mississauga St. Michaels and Windsor, the other three teams bidding for the 2011 Memorial Cup, each swept their series 4-0. Please keep in mind Kingston's opponent finished with only 62 points, nine less than the worst playoff team in the OHL's other, better conference. Also make note that Brampton had the edge in shots on goal in six of the seven games (no word what the tally was in shots at the net).
One has to believe the players gave all they could reasonably be expected to give, in light of the knowledge they're smart enough to know they're playing in a messed-up organization. The handwriting was on the wall once Ethan Werek went down with a MCL injury in Game 6. Regardless, the burn is still on Springer and GM Larry Mavety for once again displaying their knack for promising everything and delivering nothing.
The Frontenacs actually hit their attendance target in Game 7 for the first (and last) time this season, drawing a crowd of 5,133. The hell of it is wondering how much the casual fans' impressions will be coloured negatively by the team's flat effort in do-or-die game. On top of that, there was veteran leader Brian Lashoff literally leading with his head, drawing a double minor for head-butting that led to a Brampton power-play goal, plus two abuse-of-official game misconducts after the Battalion put in the empty-net clincher. It exacerbates when you lose and do don't it graciously.
Meantime, it's another early exit for a franchise which keeps saying it's going to be different, but never makes fundamental changes. It's not like someone did not see it coming last spring. The Frontenacs were trying to do just enough of a patching job that would allow them to get into the second round of the playoffs, earning them another five-year free pass from the public.
People weren't buying it this time. The club hit its original attendance target of 3,500 just eight times in 34 regular-season home dates. In the playoffs, even with the healthy turnout for Game 7, it averaged just 3,498.
Now they go into an off-season needing to replace their No. 1 (and only) goalie, Tyler Beskorowany, blueliners Lashoff and Jaroslav Kruzik (who became the second Front in recent years to quit the team mid-playoff series), and first-line forward Nathan Moon. That's a lot of 19-year-old talent to replace, especially since they're supposed to be hosting the Memorial Cup.
One wishes to not have to write these posts year after year to the attention span-challenged whose collective memory doesn't go past the Fronts' most recent win. None of the arguments about how change is needed with the Frontenacs -- a new role for the owner, new management -- have stopped being valid since the Fronts were among the 80% of OHL teams which make the playoffs. Getting the equivalent of a participant ribbon does not make you elite.
There is nothing like being right. Well, the Frontenacs reaching the second round would have been much sweeter, since it's getting harder to recall what that was like. At least there is another Game 7 on Wednesday, Kingston Vees vs. the Oakville Blades, where the Limestoners might win.
It has been 889 days since Doug Springer promised to do "whatever it takes" to bring a winner to Kingston.