By Alexander Campbell
Special to The Cheap Seats

For one, the winter of despair has lasted more than 30 years. For the other, it has been barely 30 days.

And both have reason to believe a spring of hope may be around the corner. But both also have plenty of work before they get there.

For those in OHL circles, the precarious state of the Erie Otters has been an open secret for years. Now the OHL’s most relocated franchise has filed for bankruptcy even as the team prepared to face off against Division rival London in the second round of the playoffs.

Immediately, the hopes of the OHL’s return to Belleville and Brantford jumped to the minds of sports writers province wide.

The Bulls relocation hasn’t sat well with fans provincewide, while Brantford has long remained a question mark where the OHL is considered. A city with a population of 93,000 has been curiously absent from a league where many smaller centres like Owen Sound and Peterborough have long survived.

However, both Belleville and Brantford are in identical positions. Both have sports facilities that were recently upgraded with federal and municipal dollars that can’t accommodate an OHL franchise.

Both have ancient city facilities that used to host OHL hockey that are currently sitting on prime real estate. Both would need to go searching for local ownership to make anything happen.

An OHL return to both makes sense for different reasons.

As mentioned earlier, the league’s abrupt move out of Belleville has left a lingering odour around the hockey world for the manner in which it was conducted. Many felt the Bulls, owing to their long history, deserved a better end than they were given.

Belleville, having recently lost its team certainly has greater motivation among the fan base to support the construction of a new rink and the season ticket sales to go with it.

The Quinte region, writ large, is also becoming a tourist destination. An arena here wouldn’t have to merely be a home for a hockey team. It could be a multi-use facility capable of convention and concert space as well.

Put simply: Brantford is a stop, Quinte is a destination.

That having been said, Brantford has other natural advantages.

First, having a tax base of 93,000 makes taxpayer contributions to the construction of a new rink way more palatable.

Also, if the league chose to move the Otters to Brantford, it could do so without moving Erie out of its current division. A Brantford franchise could remain inside the OHL Midwest, while a Belleville franchise would necessitate a league wide realignment (which, admittedly, the league desperately needs anyway).

The X Factor for both communities is what is known in both politics and sports as  “buy-in”. Can Belleville secure local ownership, secure the kind of front office that is going to build an elite hockey program and get the taxpayers to support building a new rink?

Can Brantford?

And what about other markets? Another open secret is that the Plymouth Whalers were very nearly moved to Chatham rather than Flint. Urban Chatham (not the larger municipality of Chatham-Kent) is only 44,000 people; could it reasonably compete with larger suitors?

And what of the OHL’s long held desire to move into Western New York State?

We, gentle readers, are not the only people who would like a Major Junior franchise in our humble burg.

Although, it is a strange coincidence that the Erie Otters have drawn Belleville and Brantford into this situation.

Once upon a time, the franchise that is now the Erie Otters were the Brantford Alexanders. In 1984, the Alexanders packed up and left Brantford.

Where did they land?

Hamilton. Where they became the Steelhawks.

Senator Alexander Campbell was campaign manager for Sir John A. Macdonald and the sixth lieutenant governor of Ontario. The actual author has asked that his name not be made public at this time and has chosen Alexander Campbell as a pseudonym in part to recognize Sir John’s 200th birthday

One thought on “A tale of two – possible – OHL cities

  1. I am a strong supporter and advocate for the City of Belleville and like most here am saddened to see the loss of the Bulls. However, quite frankly I don’t believe that at this time we have the financial capabilities to A: build a new and much larger facility to support an OHL team and B: we do not have the tax base to support a team. Both would need CORPORATE sponsorship/ownership. I may be way off the beam here but what about a team from another league for example the ladies CWHL. Remember them? They won the world cup last year. Or a SENIOR men’s team? Perhaps our existing facilities could accommodate of either these quite nicely. Just a thought.

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