The Kingston Frontenacs offered local hockey fans something to cheer about last Friday in a time of hardship. The home opener at the K-Rock Centre ended in a 3-1 victory over the Barrie Colts, in vintage OHL fashion.
Colossal hits, a fast pace and a few tussles represent what’s now considered the highest level of hockey in Canada, amidst the NHL lockout.
“It’s disappointing, but this is good hockey,” Mark Coughlin, Comm ’15, told the Journal from the stands. “It’s better than watching players fight over a ton of money we’ll never make.”
The Fronts finished dead last in the OHL’s Eastern Conference last season under new head coach Todd Gill, winning 19 of 68 games played.
Up 2-0 after the first period on Friday, the K-Rock Centre felt alive with hockey fans cheering for a new cause.
Kingston native Terry Cloutier is among those who feel the major junior level provides more entertaining hockey than the NHL.
While NHLers ultimately strive for the Stanley Cup, an 82-game season provides dull stretches prior to the playoffs. Alternatively, the OHL’s 68-game season features a more energized and exuberant style of play.
Players aged 15-20 play each game with the intention of being noticed by NHL scouts, by whatever means necessary.
“In a way, it’s better hockey,” Cloutier said. “These guys are really playing for something. The effort’s always there.”
But even Cloutier, a Fronts fan since the team was founded in 1989, feels a profound disdain for the NHL lockout, despite not having a pro team in Kingston.
“Of course I’m not picking sides — they’re all greedy sons of bitches,” Cloutier said. “And it’s the people at arenas selling hot dogs, people like that who’re feeling the most pain.”
Beyond resentment for the sheer principle of the lockout, Cloutier represents an overwhelming number of Canadians temporarily unable to watch hockey as a pastime after work.
“I used to watch hockey on cold winter nights, and stay inside by the fire,” Cloutier said. “So much for that, eh.”
NHL followers in Kingston are generally Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators fans. Cloutier’s a die-hard Canadiens fan, who’ll be prevented yet again from visiting Montreal’s Bell Centre this season.
“I’ve been going every year for the past 45 years — except for the three lockouts,” he said.
The NHL experience is in some ways irreplaceable — the grandeur, the tradition, the skill. But a city like Kingston has options, as Cloutier pointed out.
“I’m going to more of these games, maybe some [Kingston] Voyageurs games, maybe some Queen’s ones.”
As for the Frontenacs organization, a full-season lockout could help them through another rebuilding season.
The 1,465 fans at the K-Rock Centre stayed until the final whistle, roaring as the game ended with a line brawl between the Colts and Frontenacs.
“At the very least, we’ll have a bigger crowd,” said Frontenacs forward Darcy Greenaway.
A part-time Queen’s student, Greenaway also expressed similar concern to Cloutier.
“It’s going to be tough not watching SportsCentre in the morning.”
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