Ontario Hockey Association president Brent Ladds is retiring (Postmedia photo)Overseeing 15 hockey leagues — thousands of parents and players, hundreds of coaches and a bajillion agendas — only looks easy when someone else is doing it.
It would be remiss for a junior hockey blog to acknowledge the retirement of Brent Ladds, the long-time president of the Ontario Hockey Association, the overseer of almost all junior leagues other than the OHL in this country's most populous province. Ladds spent 36 years with the OHA and overall, the legacy is good one. The on-ice violence in the sport was somewhat if not completely curtailed from the bad old days of the 1970s. The OHA, through its Tomorrow's Game initiative, is also trying to hold the line the number of franchises in Junior A, B and C for fear of watering down the competition and hurting the prospects of teenage players who, for whatever reason, don't wish to play major junior.
Such a long tenure could not come without some regrets. Steve Simmons' column noted that Ladds took the death of Whitby Dunlops defenceman Don Sanderson, who suffered a fatal head injury during a fight in a December 2008 game, to heart.
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While so many of Ladds' memories are good ones, it's clear he has been scarred by the worst occurrence of his 36 years on the job.
"For me, personally, the Donald Sanderson tragedy was the darkest time. To me, he was the epitome of a player in our program. He loved the game. Here was a kid doing what he loved to do. He wasn't the best player, but that didn't matter. He got the most out of himself. He was playing hockey for all the right reasons. I don't think anyone ever saw that coming — a death from a hockey fight. A kid who didn't fight. That was so sad for his family, so sad for all of us. I think about that a lot.
"His mom has done some great things since in supporting a concussion symposium and supporting causes that keeps Donald's memory alive. I was never a pro-fighting guy but I think over the years we've all changed our views on fighting. And on our watch, the fighting numbers have really dropped, almost to the point of them being negligible now."