PYETTE: Branch’s exit, Brantford’s return highlight OHL season ahead

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The boss is calling it a day.

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Brantford is back in play.

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And the Memorial Cup, finally again, will have an American sway.

Those are the three natural storylines heading into the Ontario Hockey League season.

Longtime league commissioner David Branch announced he will bow out next spring after an incredible 45-year run at the helm. For context, he was already nearly a decade-and-a-half into the job when Gary Bettman took over as NHL boss in 1993.

Back in the late 1970s, Branch inherited a 12-team loop of mom-and-pop franchises that mostly operated out of rickety old arenas and oversaw the transformation to a multimillion-dollar 20-team circuit with more up-to-date facilities and a long sponsorship list.

Brantford was in the league then as the Alexanders and is back now as the Bulldogs. The club moved from Hamilton with FirstOntario Centre set to close for nearly two years due to renovations and there are not any guarantees of a return.

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So the Bulldogs will go from the largest rink in the league to the smallest in the 56-year-old Brantford Civic Centre. But the atmosphere should be outstanding and reminiscent of the IceDogs’ early days in St. Catharines at the now-demolished Jack Gatecliff Arena.


There will be electricity in Saginaw, too, as the Spirit won the right to hold a historic Memorial Cup in their Michigan city. The tournament will return to the United States for the first time since visiting Spokane, Wash., 25 years ago.

The Spirit will be frontrunners and expected to load up before the January trade deadline to support exceptional 2022 first-overall pick Michael Misa. They will face stiff tests in the Western Conference from the usual contending London Knights and hopeful clubs like Owen Sound, North Bay, Sudbury and Ottawa.

The league’s search committee is in the process of finding Branch’s replacement along with just-retired vice-president Ted Baker. A new award presented to the OHL’s ‘Teammate of the Year’ will be named in honour of Baker’s 35 years of service.

Needless to say, there is significant change coming to the rapidly evolving world of junior hockey.


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