North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Year of the Horse

with 2 comments

I lived in Oshawa a few years back. When I moved there I was’t much of a junior hockey fan; I grew up in a small town that didn’t have a local team and I was lucky if I saw a St. Johns Maple Leafs game on Saturday mornings in those days. That was the AHL. The OHL was a non-entity on television as a kid. It started showing up a little more as I grew up: I remember watching a Memorial Cup back when Sportsnet was owned by CTV.

But I honestly didn’t pay the league any attention until the 2005 NHL lockout when the only other hockey on was the occasional TSN re-broadcast of stuff from the 80s. That was the year Rimouski won 35 straight games, no doubt thanks to a young Sidney Crosby. They tore it up through the playoffs, only losing one game, before losing 4-0 to London in the Memorial Cup title game. I wasn’t a fan, but I was starting to get interested in junior hockey.

The next year, I moved to Oshawa to attend J-School.

John Tavares back his Oshawa days, albiet on the road

This was back when both Michael Del Zotto and John Tavares played for the Oshawa Generals. The Gens were about to move into a new arena downtown, the GM Centre, as part of a plan to kickstart the downtown economy. Explaining what happened to downtown Oshawa is a long, complex story (feel free to read my 2007 story about it) but the gist of it is big box stores and a methadone clinic drew people away from downtown and a bunch of stores closed, with pawn shops, cheque-cashing places and the like to move it. The city’s hope was a new arena would bring people back a few nights a week; with some luck they’d stick around and check out a restaurant or something.

At this time, the Gens played in the Civic, a relic of an arena located out by the 401, more or less out by a field. It was old, it wasn’t easy to get to and was something of a dump. Around the time I started J-School, the Gens moved into the GM Centre (the second thing to happen there, as I recall. The first was a Tragically Hip concert). Right away I was interested. I didn’t know much about Tavares, but I knew he was much younger than me, so young the league bent the rules to let him play, was name-dropped on TSN a lot and was playing just a bus ride away. When the buses weren’t on strike, anyway.

One advantage of living in a media market like Oshawa was it’s proximity to Toronto. If people wanted to hear the Jays, they could listen to them on the Fan; if people wanted to listen to classic rock, they listened to the Q. Oshawa radio stations had to do something to compete. CKDO, 107.7 FM, aired General games. They were my first introduction to the Gens.

My third year, I started volunteering at the local Rogers station. There I met a producer named Pinkerton who was training a mobile crew. Wandering out, he put me to work laying cable, then looping it in a figure eight, with a guy named Bernard. Before long I was friends with Bernard and working under Pink on Generals games. The routine was something like this: on game day, I’d take a bus downtown around noon and walk to the arena. Pink was usually there by then, driving a giant mobile studio with a huge image of Tavares and Del Zotto on either side. A crew of about 12 people would assemble, start unwinding miles of cables, pounds of TV cameras, cases and cases of lights, microphones, stands and extension cords. We’d work through the afternoon setting up, plugging in, turning on and testing lights, cameras, mics, chromakeys, everything you’d think a TV production has and about 15 things you’d never heard of before (Still Store! Shaders!). Usually I’d be working up top, in the media gondola.

The press box at the GM Centre isn’t big, maybe 30 or 40 feet long and about 15 deep. There’s four compartments: one for visiting media, one for the newspaper people (who never seemed to come up that far), one for the crew from CKDO (only two people, as I recall) and one for the Rogers crew, always Roger Lajoie, who I’d met before I started at Rogers and always introduced himself to me at every game and asked my name. He had this innate ability to show up seemingly minutes before game time, take a cursory glance at the lineup sheet and just rattle off the game like he’d been studying them all week. I was impressed, even morso the time I tripped and just about knocked a TV camera over during a live broadcast and he managed to turn around, shoot me a “What the fuck is wrong with you” look and ask if I was okay while seamlessly doing play by play. I swear, Lajoie’s some kind of genius.

This was Tavares and Del Zotto’s last season in the OHL, so Oshawa sold high on them and flipped them to London for picks and players. Down came the images on the side of the mobile. Without their two best players, Oshawa missed the playoffs this year by a single point. Covering playoff hockey would have been fun, but by this point I was interning at CTV and writing about wheat, diarrhoea and Britney Spears. Still, my time around the Gens had been a blast and I came away with a new appreciation for junior hockey.

The Colts logo. I think the horse’s name is Colts_OHLebooks? Not sure.

Soon, I moved back up north to a town near the Barrie Colts, a team only occasionally on TV and completely absent from the radio. I didn’t really fade from the OHL, but I didn’t really pay as much attention as I used to. Then last spring, the Colts went on a playoff tear and I went down to see them. It brought back some memories from watching the Gens, but mostly it was just a lot of fun. It was fun watching all six-feet-three of Mark Scheifele, big enough to power his way through the opposition. It was fun watching Mathias Niederberger in net, who kept making save after save and kept the Colts in the game when their offence wasn’t working. It was fun watching Aaron Ekblad and Colin Behenna score clutch goals. It was enough fun I found myself watching the rest of the series on TV, following a couple Barrie sportswriters on Twitter and feeling a little dejected when Barrie lost game seven of that series in overtime. I’m not about to buy a Colts jersey, but following them this fall seemed only natural.

But this was before the NHL lockout. For the second time in eight years, there’s no hockey this fall. If I want to watch hockey on TV, the Colts are probably my best bet (and they’ll probably be on TV a few times more, to boot). But the lockout has another impact, too: with no NHL teams to report to and try out for, it’s kept the team I liked last spring more or less intact; all of the players I mentioned above are still in Barrie. It’s made a decision to follow them a lot easier. It’s helped make 2012.13 the Year of the Horse.

Photo via Brad Saunders, logo via Wikipedia


Written by M.

September 25, 2012 at 11:41 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on Hockey Season 2012-2013 (WSC).

    Nathan Ishizaki

    October 5, 2012 at 12:40 pm

  2. […] a blast for as fair-weather a hockey as myself. I mentioned it earlier this season, but this year I’ve really dived into the OHL and this Colts team has been a blast. For one, Scheifele’s one of those players who’s […]

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