OHL levies $400,000 in fines against the Windsor Spitfires UPDATE: Spits deny “accusations”

Perhaps it says something that the Ontario Hockey League released this on a Friday, but this will be a big topic of discussion in the eternal war waged between the CHL and College Hockey Inc. The OHL announced that they have fined the Windsor Spitfires for $400K in total fines for violating the League's Player Benefit and Recruitment Rules and Policies.

No specific incident is mentioned. The text of the release, including unnecessary capitalization wherein I can't picture commissioner David Branch yelling, discloses the following:

"In 2009 the Board of Governors of the Ontario Hockey League developed the OHL ENFORCEMENT PROGRAM which is designed to address and attempt to eliminate violations of the RULES and impose appropriate penalties if violations occur. The enforcement process is an integral part of the process to ensure integrity and fair play among the MEMBER TEAMS. One of the fundamental principles of the enforcement process is to ensure that those MEMBER TEAMS that are abiding by the rules are not disadvantaged by their commitment to compliance", stated OHL Commissioner David Branch. [OHL]

The release also states that the league conducted two separate investigations, and that the Spitfires will also forfeit their first-round picks in the OHL Priority Draft in 2013, 2014 and 2015, as well as a 2nd round pick in 2015 and 2017.

This punishes the Spitfires hard. There's no specifics on who the team was investigating a recruitment violation over—it could be anybody from Jack Campbell to Kenny Ryan to Cam Fowler, both of whom shrugged off the NCAA to come to Windsor—or the specific period of time. That will be left up to speculation. It's also a shot across the bow from Commissioner Branch to other big market OHL clubs.

Kitchener are currently suing a student paper at the University of Michigan for allegations of improper recruitment tactics. You can't sit down at a table with a group of junior hockey reporters without reporting the latest recruitment rumour, or a big club using its financial clout to woo a top player away from a small-market team. It's not just a problem that pits the CHL against the NCAA, but player recruitment by big teams affects weaker clubs as well.

This is a hefty punishment and the aftermath will be fun. Perhaps Windsor loads up on a run this season, or sells off assets to recoup the picks they lost as part of this suspension. You have to think the OHL is closely monitoring the Kitchener situation, and maybe there are one or two other investigations in the works. This one was quite out of nowhere and an indication that Branch isn't just sitting idly by.

UPDATE --Well, about 90 minutes after the fines were issued, the Windsor Spitfires responded:

We are in receipt of the decision by the Ontario Hockey League regarding the Windsor Spitfires Hockey Club and completely deny all accusations that have been put forward.

It is the team's position that there is no evidence to support this decision, nor did the league follow due process or its own rules regarding procedural fairness in the making of this decision. [CTV Sports Extra]

The Spitfires will be appealing and have no further comment at this time.

UPDATE--This now from Sportsnet's Jeff Marek:

So now we have a time frame and we know it's more than one player.