OHL puts end to all-star game

If you’re looking to see the Ontario Hockey League’s best and brightest put their skills on display this year, you’re going to be out of luck.

OHL commissioner Dave Branch announced Tuesday that the league would not be holding its annual all-star game and skills competition.

The reason? Because too many of the league’s elite players were playing in other events like the Canada-Russia Super Series, World Junior Championships and Top Prospects Game.

“We keep, it seems, going to the same players and it was really becoming taxing on them,” said Branch during an OHL conference call. “Neither the (WHL) or Quebec have had an all-star game for several seasons and we just thought that it was serving the best interests of our players to forego that all-star experience, given the other experiences they would have (with the other events).”

It will be the first time since 1996 that the OHL will skip the all-star festivities. It was replaced in 1996 by the Top Prospects Game which features the CHL’s top 40 draft eligible players as picked by the NHL’s central scouting service. The all-star game made its return the following year in its current format with the best players from the Eastern Conference taking on the Western Conference. Last season the game and skills competition was held in Kingston, Ont., where the attendance was announced as 3,206, but actual fans in the seats were few and far between. According to Branch however, the decision was based primarily on workload for the league’s top players.

“It was the number one factor as to why we chose to not have an all-star game moving forward,” said Branch. “While the players loved it, it just gets to be at a point where it’s taxing some of those key players far too much. And we even discussed, well maybe we don’t bring players who were in the world junior tournament and played in the (Super Series) but then the fans that are in the host centre for the all-star game wouldn’t necessarily – I’m sure – appreciate that.”

Last season between various training camps, exhibition games, the OHL regular season, world junior championships, special events and a post-season which culminated in a Memorial Cup, players like Windsor Spitfires stars Taylor Hall, Cam Fowler and Ryan Ellis played in more than 100 hockey games over the course of the year.

“It’s an honour to be selected to play in an all-star game,” said Windsor Spitfires head coach Bob Jones. “But when you look at all the hockey these kids are playing, the league obviously thinks this is a good idea.

“When you think about it, the all-star game isn’t really a big deal in the sense it doesn’t really help much in terms of helping boost a player’s stock.”

Members of the Barrie Colts pose for pictures that the 2009 OHL all-star game in Kingston.
Aaron Bell/OHL Images

The selection committee for the OHL’s all-star game was given a mandate to select a player from each team in the league, so for good players on underachieving teams this was likely the only time they’d see any kind of recognition for their efforts.

“I hope the league will still put out an all-star team,” said Jones, to help recognize the league’s best players.

Branch did note, however, that banishing the all-star game might not be a permanent proposition though its been many years since the Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League decided to shelve their league showcase.

“We may choose to look at another concept going forward, but clearly the issue of the number of times we call upon the same players was the leading factor,” said Branch.

Sunaya Sapurji is the Jr. Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports. You can reach her at: Sunaya@yahoo-inc.com

Updated Tuesday, Sep 21, 2010