Battalion hope for boost from 2011 Cup

Neate Sager, Buzzing the Net
Yahoo! Sports

Brampton Battalion president Mike Griffin noted Monday it will take time to reveal if awarding the 2011 Mastercard Memorial Cup to the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors was the right call.

"We think it's terrific -- it's good for Mississauga, it's good for junior hockey in the area," Griffin said.

There are concerns about holding the tournament in Toronto, where the Majors and Battalion had the lowest average attendance in the 20-team Ontario Hockey League this season. The Windsor Spitfires, who seemed to present a very strong case, averaged 6,278 fans while repeating as OHL champion, a 24 per cent increase over 2008-09.

"It's a wait and see. The aftermath of it (the 2011-12 season) is where you'll hopefully see the positives. The goal for both our franchises, Brampton and Mississauga, is to build consistent audiences, which has been difficult. For both markets, it's been a struggle, it's been a challenge. Hopefully, this is something that makes people say, 'hey, I want to see this all the time.' "

Ultimately, Griffin noted the selection committee, chaired by Toronto lawyer Gordon Kirke, likely put a lot of emphasis the host team's potential strength next season.

That might seem like a saw-off. Windsor had 16 more points and won two more playoff rounds this season than Mississauga while playing in the stacked Western Conference.

The Majors, though, stand to lose only one core player, defenceman Cameron Gaunce. Windsor's brain trust should keep it on top, although it stands to lose a fair bit of scoring if top-end talent such as Taylor Hall, Ryan Ellis and/or Cam Fowler are plucked by the NHL.

"When the (media) conference comes up, one thing they'll probably talk about is the strength of the team itself next year. Mississauga, based on what I've seen this year and what they're guaranteed back for next year, is a great team. At the end of the day, that is heavily weighted.

"Windsor could have a terrific team. Typically with (general manager) Warren Rychel and (coach) Bob Boughner, and the way they've done it, they could have an excellent team again.

"Timing has to be right in the terms of the team," Griffin added. "In Windsor's case, they have a phenomenal community, a phenomenal facility (the WFCU Centre). The potential with that team could be uncertain, because they've done such a tremendous job developing players. They could lose Ellis, Fowler, (forward Zack) Kassian (a Buffalo Sabres first-round selection) is an outside possibility, plus Taylor Hall.

"If you're the committee, it's a maybe scenario. There are a lot of question marks."

Not to editorialize, but some would say the same about holding the tournament in Toronto. The 12-year-old Battalion and Majors franchises, whose season-ticket bases are each in the 1,000 range, have each struggled to get traction in the Toronto market.

Brampton had a short-term uptick in the 2009 playoffs, when it had sellout crowds of 4,850 for its two home games in the final against the Spitfires.

So there's cautious optimism.

"With (owner) Eugene Melnyk and the people around the Majors, they'll put on a terrific show," Griffin said. "What transpires over the next 12 months will not be the proof in the pudding, it will be what comes after.

"We can sell out games in the OHL final, but getting the people back in September, that's the question that needs to be answered. Hopefully this will help."

The Barrie Colts and Kingston Frontenacs also bid for the tournament. The Frontenacs also bid unsuccessfully for the 2008 Cup.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. You may contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca.