The National Hockey League lockout has people from all walks of life looking for a hockey fix.
In Plymouth, Whaler alums Chad LaRose, John Mitchell, Jared Boll, and James Winsiewski have been joined by NHL players Tim Gleason and Jack Johnson to skate with the Whalers during practice this season. David Legwand skates so frequently the Whalers decided to give him a stall.
In Nashville, The Penalty Box Program with ESPN 102.5FM The Game wanted to re-set their passion for hockey.
So Penalty Box host Justin Bradford, with “Big Ben” Butzbach, Michael Reed, Glynne Blackwell and Brittany Wesemann drove from Nashville to take in four OHL games in four-days (Dec. 6-9) through Saginaw, Sarnia, Plymouth and Windsor. They also took a tour of the United States National Team Developmental facility in Ann Arbor.
“Back in the summer, we wanted to figure out how we can discover new hockey,” Bradford said. “Especially with all the NHL prospects the OHL has to offer. In seeing (Nashville prospect) Simon Karlsson and all the other top prospects, we wanted to experience that.”
Along the way, the Penalty Box crew interviewed several OHL players who are National Hockey League drafts. Plymouth’s Tom Wilson (Washington) andSimon Karlsson (Nashville), Saginaw’s Jake Paterson (Detroit), Windsor’s Brady Vail (Montreal), Sarnia’s Alex Galchenyuk (Montreal) and head coaches Greg Gilbert (Saginaw) and Bob Boughner (Windsor) were all interviewed.
While the Predators put on a good show – on and off the ice - the Penalty Box crew discovered some truths that most OHL observers already know.
“What we didn’t realize was the intensity, the quality of play and the speed of the OHL,” Bradford said. “With these kids, it feels like I’m watching an NHL-caliber game. They play with as much intensity as we see in the NHL. You see that the players want it, and they want it with all their hearts.
“The crowds and the rinks have been amazing. The rinks – with their low ceilings – have been so loud everywhere. The league puts on a good show with quality hockey.”
The NHL made not be playing, but Bradford and his crew found out first-hand that the OHL is alive and well.
“You see people here tonight, they love their Whalers hockey,” Bradford said. “What we didn’t realize is, all the teams have their own (distinctive) fan base that they cater to. You don’t have to be an NHL fan here. You can be a hockey fan. You can enjoy the local teams up here and give them your support and dollars.”
While in Plymouth, The Penalty Box Crew spoke to a cross section typical of the Whalers’ make-up with Americans Nick Malysa and Stefan Noesen, Tom Wilson (Canada) and Karlsson (Sweden). Although all four Whalers are in different stages of their respective careers, Bradford came away impressed.
“What stands out is their character,” Bradford said. “Seeing Wilson on the ice, you can tell by the way he acts on the ice he’s a leader. In interviewing them, they have a lot of charisma and they’re pros already. The development of these players in the OHL is phenomenal. You don’t realize that most of these guys are 17 or 18-years-old, because they (already) act like a pro player.”
While Bradford and his group interviewed players, Bradford was also interviewed on Whalers television.
The crew recounted their road trip Monday night in the latest edition of their program.
Listen to the Podcast here. (Click on the Dec. 10 program).