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OHL All-Stars geared up for Michigan showdown
Dale Hunter has had a lot of experience with all-star teams in the past.
The London Knights coach is making his second straight appearance behind the Western Conference bench in the OHL All-Star Classic and has also coached stars like Corey Perry, David Bolland and Rob Schremp with the Knights.
Despite all of that experience, Hunter still admits that it can be a difficult decision on who to put out to start the game.
“It’s definitely tough,” Hunter said during a conference call to announce the all-star teams earlier this week. “Most likely it would be the Saginaw boys to start and then toss a coin after that.”
Hunter knows that whatever combination he puts out; there will be a lot of skill on the ice.
“There are a lot of scouts there and they will have a full house in Saginaw so the boys on both sides will go out and show a lot of skill and really work hard to show why they made the all-star team,” said Hunter, a two-time OHL coach of the year. “They’re the top kids in the league and they are going to go out and prove it.”
His counterpart in the game will be Marty Williamson of the Barrie Colts, who will be looking to guide the Eastern Conference to its second straight all-star win. They ended a three-year Western Conference streak with a 9-3 win in Belleville last January. Williamson doesn’t have any concerns about his line combinations either.
“These guys are all all-stars so I don’t think it makes a lot of difference,” Williamson said. “When you pick a group like this, one of the reasons they are picked is that they are very competitive. I think when you put any 20 guys in a dressing room; it’s pretty easy to motivate them to win a game. This is a game for the players and they know that there is going to be scouts in the building.”
Some would argue that the all-star coaches have the easy part of the job and after helping to pick the Western Conference roster, Owen Sound Attack GM Michael Futa would probably agree.
“It’s a very difficult process,” said Futa, who selected the Western Conference roster with Mike Vellucci of the Plymouth Whalers, while Stan Butler of the Brampton Battalion and Dave Brown of the Mississauga IceDogs selected the Eastern Conference All-Stars. “Obviously there are some tremendous players that have been left off the rosters. I think it’s a credit to the quality of the players that are out there.”
For the players, it’s an honour to be among the 40 that will play in the game. Saginaw Spirit captain Patrick McNeill played in the past two OHL All-Star Games – in Owen Sound in 2005 and Belleville in 2006. He was thrilled to be named to the team again this year.
“I was fortunate enough to play in the two previous all-star games,” McNeill said. “They were both great experiences. I had an excellent time. It will definitely be nice to be playing in Saginaw this year in front of family and friends and the hometown fans. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
This is the first time that the OHL All-Star Game is held in the United States.
“The community of mid-Michigan is thrilled to be hosting the most talented junior hockey players in the world in this year’s OHL All-Star Classic,” said Craig Goslin, managing partner of the Spirit. “It will be special for people to see the raw talent and skills that these guys have. There will be many future NHLers on the ice. The fans here are going to be highly entertained by that.”