The Hamilton Red Wings had a horrible couple of seasons. Let’s be honest, as a fan, you were just waiting until next season. And then last year, the Red Wings franchise gave you hope. They rehired John McDonald, the last coach to take Hamilton to a championship. It is like a son returning home. He brought with him a coaching staff that he trusted. A serious plan to make Hamilton a place to play, focusing on building and recruiting local talent. He was given ‘pretty much full control to recruit and run the team as he sees fit’ (Hamilton Community News, February 20th, 2013) and 'adamant what has become a revolving door on the Red Wings’ dressing room in recent years will stop' (Hamilton Community News, February 20th, 2013).
The season begins and the team, with 20 players, mostly local, who never played at the Jr A level before, got off to a hot start and turned heads early. They lose veteran rearguard Jason O’Connor due to injury, Christian DiGiacinto graduated to the Windsor Spitfires and the hot, youthful team start losing, they continue to lose and the Hamilton Red Wings were 12 points out of a playoff spot when the regular season wraps up.
There is no arguing that building your team with 2 rookie goaltenders, eight 17 year olds and overall inexperience from top to bottom was a giant question mark. But it was great to see a veteran leader like John McDonald focus not on just the now, but the future of the club. He knew he would still have to trade away or lose some players but he would have a core who battled hard and have that ever so valuable year of experience in the OJHL.
Fast forward to early April, and the dream is over. John McDonald and the coaching staff walk away. After rumours swirled as to why, McDonald cited a 'disagreement with Stu Hyman, team owner, over the direction of the team' (Hamilton Community News, April 30th, 2014). A similar situation that saw Frank Robinson relieved of his duties in Whitby. (DurhamRegion.com, January 17, 2014)
Until recently, there was an idea on the future direction of the Red Wings, but now it is pretty well known.
It started with the trading of Adam Burnett. Given the need for a strong backend, it didn’t seem right that Hamilton would get rid of the 6’3” 200 pound rear guard. Fast forward a couple weeks and they add an overage forward with 2 years of NOJHL experience. Then the transactions continued, and they were telling.
Hamilton trades away their rookie of the year Corey Caruso (Hamilton Red Wings, March 5th, 2014), their leading point scorer to the AJHL in return for another overage player, this time a defenceman… the problem is that he is committed to a school for the upcoming season and is not choosing to break his commitment. Hamilton dealt away a player for a rights to a player, who may not play for the team this year. To replace Caruso, a 96 birth year, they trade for Davis Gadjovich. Another 96 birth year who played his rookie season with the Lindsay Muskies. He was then sent to the NOJHL
The moves continued… Hamilton added three more players from the North: an overage defenceman who played in the CCHL, OJHL and GOJHL last season, a 95 forward who spent two seasons in the CCHL with the Pembroke Lumber Kings, and a 96 birth year defenceman whose stats and stature is less than Adam Burnett.
To be fair if I have seen these three players play, I certainly do not remember them. Their stats could be acceptable if they were all lower half players, by that I mean bottom 6 forward or bottom pairing defenceman. In which case, why would you go out to get these individual’s. How do bottom players make your team better? Adding some experience won’t just do the trick here. As always though, stats of a player never tell the whole tale. While hearing of the three northern additions, something pops up on the OJHL website, and that is 8 players added to the Hamilton Red Wings roster, 5 retroactively added back in June and just appearing now. In total a 94 defenceman, a 95 forward, 5 1997 born players and a 98 forward.
In summation the Red Wings added 7 forwards, 4 defenceman, 1 goalie, and traded away 3 players. With no other roster changes announced, the teams ‘roster’ (OJHL Website) now has… 19 forwards, 10 defenceman and 3 goaltenders.
Clearly that is too many players, prepare for more transactions.
What this accounts for is a lack of focus on the Mountain towards local talent. The additions mostly come from the Toronto area or from the North. This is a big departure from last years focus, and with so much more youth being added, the team appears to be ignoring its association with the Jr. Bulldogs and the Huskies minor hockey programs as well as ignoring the GOJHL in their own back yard.
A completely different approach and a clear description of John McDonald’s comments, ‘a disagreement over the direction of the team.’ (Hamilton Community News, April 30th, 2014)
As always, this commentary doesn’t mean anything if the team goes on to the ice and wins. With the season just around the corner. It will be an interesting year in Hamilton.