Windsor wins on merit, Mississauga has Melnyk

Let’s not kid ourselves: Much of picking a Memorial Cup host is staked on the team's ability.

(There is some angst it is about the money. The Windsor Star capitalized "multimillionaire" in front of Mississauga St. Michaels Majors owner Eugene Melnyk's name.)

During a media conference on Wednesday, OHL commissioner David Branch mentioned "quality of team" as a factor taken into consideration before listing off the various creature comforts a city may offer such as hotels and restaurants. Presumably, that's some indication. It's also backed up by some quick Wiki-ing, which reveals the last 15 host teams averaged 88.1 points in the regular season in the season prior to hosting. All but one (last season's host, the QMJHL's Rimouski Océanic, who finished fourth of four teams) recorded at least 90 points at some point in the three previous years.

Barrie, Mississauga and Windsor all had at least 90 points this season, so no problem for them. The race seems to break down along the following lines.

1 and 1-A: Windsor and Mississauga. There's some irony that Melnyk, who owns the NHL's Ottawa Senators, is on the other side of a big city vs. little city rivalry.

Windsor, under GM Warren Rychel and coach Bob Boughner, has thrown off the chronic-loser yoke to become a magnet franchise in the OHL, winning the Memorial Cup in 2009 and producing a slew of high NHL picks. The Windsor Star noted earlier this week "there appears to be an appetite" for holding the Memorial Cup in a larger city after back-to-back tournaments in cities with populations of less than 50,000, Rimouski and this season's host, Brandon. (Not to be the typical central-Canadian chauvinist, but size of city can't be that big of a deal if the CHL was willing to go to those smaller centres in the first place.)

Were merit all that mattered, Windsor would be a shoo-in.

There is the argument Mississauga would be better for trying to get traction in the Toronto market, where the Majors and their neighbours, the Brampton Battalion, each struggle to get huge crowds. Excuse the value judgement, but this should be decided on merit, not as a marketing tool. It's a bit dodgy to think holding a 10-day tournament will overcome more than a decade-plus worth of weakish support.

Still, if Melnyk ("I have basically stepped up to the plate to make sure we're competitive") is involved, that puts the Majors in the hunt. Resent him all you want, but between both hockey teams he owns, he's rushed in where some investors would fear to tread.

Ruled out by deductive reasoning: Barrie. If the size of Windsor is supposedly a concern, then Barrie, the 35th-largest municipality in Canada, is probably too small. Its arena has a regular seating capacity of only 4,200 seats.

Granted, no Eastern Conference team has hosted since Ottawa in 1999, but that's more happenstance than anything else.

The one which is not like the others: Kingston. Frontenacs owner Doug Springer has waxed rhapsodic about having a "campus village" visitors to the city could take advantage of during a Memorial Cup at the K-Rock Centre. Twelve years without winning a playoff series conjures up Liz Lemon screaming, "Deal-breaker!"

The Fronts are the only team bidding which did not make Round 3 of the playoffs. They have not made Round 2 since 1998. Kingston Whig-Standard sports editor Mike Koreen also noted this week poor attendance at the OHL all-star game in February was "a negative for the Fronts."

Kingston fans, an astute lot, have been asking for more from the organization for a while. It's one of the nicest cities in Ontario, with a great downtown area, but that's exclusive of the Frontenacs. Terry Doyle at Loose Pucks wonders if "it might be too soon" for Kingston to bid for the tournament, considering the Frontenacs have yet to "re-build support in the community by putting a winning team on the ice." As a personal opinion, hosting the tournament in an effort to earn fans' trust at the expense of a franchise which has earned fans' trust is just wrongheaded.

The host will be announced May 3.

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