During his days with Guelph, Mike Kelly helped mold the Storm into the perennial Ontario Hockey League powerhouse that they remain today. Kelly left his post as the Director of Scouting with the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames this past spring to join the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires as their President and General Manager.
Two days before the start of his team’s 1999-2000 OHL season, Kelly sat down for a talk over breakfast
JH Why leave the sanctity and the prestige of the National Hockey League to return to junior hockey – and a floundering junior hockey franchise at that?
MK (Spitfire owner) Steve Riolo was very persistent in talking to me. He had contacted me shortly after Christmas last year when I was at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Winnipeg. I really did not have a strong interest at that time, mainly because I had only been in the NHL for only a season and a half. Steve called me again in February and we met, and again I basically indicated to him that I was content to remain with the Calgary Flames. But he kept calling and calling and just before I was about to leave for the World Under-18 championships in Germany in April, I had a pretty good idea of how badly he wants to build a winner in Windsor.
To be honest, from an outside perspective, I have always looked at this franchise and thought that it had a lot of potential.
Just three short months removed from their gut-wrenching Stanley Cup Final loss, the Buffalo Sabres opened their 1999 training camp with high hopes for a return to the Big Dance. Although some of the pieces to the puzzle are currently missing (free-agent holdouts), the Sabres have enough good prospects to keep things interesting during the drudgery of the exhibition season.
Prospect junkies view the NHL pre-season as a good time to evaluate where certain prospects are at in their development, so they look forward to receiving any scrap of information they can get regarding their favorite team’s prospects. People such as this writer are only too happy to provide the prospect junkies with their fix, but getting information from NHL training camps is sometimes easier said than done. In the case of the Buffalo Sabres, the embargo on information regarding the current camp has been truly disappointing. Given the small numbers of people that attend practices, as well as the limited number of news outlets covering camp, it has been somewhat difficult to cobble together worthwhile information on the play of some of the prospects in camp.
Still, rather than make excuses, I will take the information I have and present as accurately as I can the noteworthy events of the first two weeks of the Buffalo Sabres ’99 training camp.
“Defense? What’s that?”
Adrian Aucoin officially made a commitment with Team Canada on Tuesday and will join Tom Renney and the gang in Calgary at Father David Bauer Arena. This, however mean’s a lot for the rookies playing with Vancouver currently and not shaved from the roster.
Zenith Komarniski and Rene Vydareny have a chance to stick with the club until Aucoin signs the papers and Jovo-Cop does the same. A little off topic on the youngsters with the Canucks, Greg Hawgood may have his chance also, he is playing without a contract right now however the Canucks haven’t cut the 31 year old. This could be an opportunity for him and Kormarniski and Vydareny.
“I don’t think anyone’s paying that much attention to it,” said Greg Hawgood, who’s trying to win a spot on the defence. “It’s out of the control of anyone who’s in that dressing room.”
On to other news involving Pre-Season is Bryan Allen. The 4th overall pick of the 1998 Entry Draft is undeniably the ideal candidate for a personalized hospital room. Allen has been told to stay in Vancouver for the Canucks trip to Eastern Canada for games against Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Allen had his left knee checked Monday and the results still aren’t in. With Jovanovski and Aucoin out, Burke is going to pray that the results are pretty or else the NHL’s promising young defense core in Vancouver may turn flip flop and make the offense more appealing.
(Quotes from the Vancouver Province)
Something to prove is the buzz about the Kootenay Ice going into this season. With 19 returning players, there are not a lot of openings for these up and coming players to fill. After a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Calgary Hitmen in the first round of playoffs last year, the Ice are coming back with a vengeance and it has every one thinking that this might be the year.
This column will endeavour to keep you informed about happenings going on with the Windsor Spitfires and Plymouth Whalers over the course of the 1999-2000 OHL season. Emphasis will be placed on the progress of the teams, of course, but particular emphasis will be placed on the rookies and selected sophomores on each team. You will be able to check out how these youngsters are doing offensively, along with some comments on how they’re handling themselves as the season goes on.
For now, some jots and thoughts as the teams get ready to open the season.
For some, the pre-season is a lot like the TV game show “Whose Line is it Anyway.” (Everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.)
However, coaches and GMs spend long hours going over each player’s performance.
In Windsor, the feeling is one of rebirth. Things are looking up with the hiring of Tom Webster as coach and Mike Kelly as GM.
Together, they’ve brought an air of knowledge and professionalism, the likes of which Windsor Arena hasn’t seen in a good, long while.
It started in early July, a few weeks after the draft. The players were sent a conditioning program to follow, and while it’s a work in progress, things seem better this time than they did a year ago.
Webster told the Windsor Star the biggest challenge is getting players to do the program.
“What they have to realize eventually is that the game becomes so much easier when they’re in shape.”