The return of North Bay to the OHL is good news on a lot of fronts. It’s good news for the Gateway City, good news for the fans there and good news for the league. But I think, most of all, it’s good news for the Sudbury Wolves.
The most obvious advantage of having North Bay back in the league is a chance to rekindle a great rivalry. There is nothing like a sports rivalry. The ones that come to mind are the Leafs-Canadiens, Argos-Ti-Cats, Yankees-Red Sox, Lakers-Celtics and Packers-Bears.
Growing up I was exposed to one of the longest-running junior hockey rivalries around —the Peterborough Petes vs. the Oshawa Generals. These two teams really do hate each other and that hate transfers to the fans and, at times, to the two cities themselves. The rivalry really brings intensity to the games, no matter what time of the season it is — an intensity that you usually don’t see until playoff time.
I wasn’t around for the Sudbury-North Bay rivalry, but I have heard the stories and it sounds like it was much like what happens between Peterborough and Oshawa. With the two communities so close, it’s only natural that the competition between the two teams would rub off on the fans.
Being around for the games between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie the last 10 years, I get the sense the effort has been put into trying to create a rivalry between the two teams, and it has developed to a certain extent. But I would not put it in the category of a classic sports rivalry. However, add North Bay to the mix and you have all the makings of a three-way northern rivalry that could develop into something special.
Another positive to North Bay’s return is the reduced travel for the Wolves. The simplest thing to do is just replace Brampton with North Bay in the Central division meaning the two teams would continue to play each other eight times a season. That easily cuts 20 hours from Sudbury’s travel schedule, meaning the players spend less time on the bus and have even fewer three-in-three weekends.
I can’t count how many times the Wolves have gone into Brampton on a Sunday afternoon on the third game of a three-game weekend, only to face a team that was fresh because they didn’t play the night before. The new schedule could also mean tougher travel for the southern teams with a northern trip including North Bay, Sudbury and the Soo.
The best thing about having North Bay back in the league is that it almost forces the Wolves to be better both on and off the ice. It’s a proven fact that competition makes everyone better. You don’t want to look at a competing business and see it doing better than yours. It’s the same for a hockey team. You don’t want to see your biggest rival doing better than you in the standings.
It will mean the Wolves brass will want to scout one more player to make sure they get the edge on the competition east on Highway 17, put that extra 10 minutes into practice and give the coaching staff that little extra ammunition for the pre-game pep talk.
Welcome back to the OHL, North Bay. The only ones smiling more than the hockey fans in North Bay might be everyone connected to the Wolves — of course those smiles will disappear as soon as that first game between the two teams. Then it’s welcome back to the Sudbury-North Bay rivalry.
Stew Kernan is the radio and television voice of the Sudbury Wolves, and the news director at EZ Rock and Q92. This column appears every other week in Northern Life.