January 23, 2011
The flying elbow Florida Panthers first-round pick Erik Gudbranson delivered on Saturday might have ended a soap opera with the Kingston Frontenacs.
The Ontario Hockey League might not look too kindly on the run the big blueliner took at the Oshawa Generals' J.P. Labardo, which led to a major penalty for charging and an early shower. A day later, though, Gudbranson again had an A on his sweater and helped Kingston jump out to an early lead against the Saginaw Spirit, contributing two assists and a massive legal hit on forward Micky Sartoretto in a 7-3 win.
Gotta at least the question: would a guy who is supposedly apathetic throw his weight around in such fashion?
(Update: Kingston coach Doug Gilmour now says as far as he is concerned, Gudbranson and fellow defenceman Taylor Doherty "are the co-captains on this team.")
One can only wonder what prompted going after Labardo, though. Like with anything, it is probably a little from Column A, a little from Column B — part sticking up for his goaltender, Philipp Grubauer, who lost his mask in a collision, part frustration after being reprimanded by the Frontenacs.
(Labardo was also ejected for contact to the head, but it doesn't appear to have occurred.)
The ripple effect is rather fascinating. Following Gudbranson's hit on Sartoretto on Sunday, Spirit defenceman Dalton Prout stepped in, looking to fight. Forward Conor Stokes — the very player who lost his alternate's 'A' so Gudbranson could get it back — took that dance with Prout. It didn't keep Gudbranson available for the rest of the period, since he got a misconduct moments later for coming to the defence of teammate Nathan Moon after he was jumped off a faceoff.
That said, it is debatable if the ends justified the means. Unchecked aggression is unchecked aggression. Labardo escaped injury Saturday but the OHL might look at punishing the elbow, especially since Gudbranson had a suspension for a head shot earlier in the season.
No one debates a team's right to discipline players. The Frontenacs organization, from head coach Doug Gilmour right up to owner Doug Springer, have not come off well in the past 48 hours. The way it was handled led people who don't know one half-iota about the OHL to think the worst about Gudbranson. It also hurt the team's chances in the game he missed snce San Jose Sharks-drafted captain Taylor Doherty was overextended, reportedly playing 40 minutes.
It is also fair to ask if the team changed course after it realized doing this to a world junior defenceman was a big deal.
A reality is there has been a lot of scuttlebutt about the quality of the coaching and player development with the Frontenacs. Gilmour, for all the googly-eyed citizens of Leaf Nation picturing him as coaching saviour, is still in just his third season of coaching. The team only lists one assistant coach, unlike 15 of 19 other OHL teams. (That's from the media guide.) This has also a team that has an odd history with first-round selections. Five of its seven from 2003-09 were traded away before their junior days ended.
Gudbranson, between his extended stint with the Panthers and the month or so with Team Canada under Dave Cameron, a bear for preparation, knows what is what with good learning and teaching enviroments. Point being, this cannot be 100 per cent put on the player. Far from it.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.