by Chris Messina

 

Don’t worry Frontenacs fans, you have the right man behind the bench in Todd Gill. He is the one guy who can lead this franchise from the laughing stock of the Ontario Hockey League to contention. It might be hard to believe now as you watch the team play home games in front of nobody at one of the nicest facilities in Canada, the K-Rock Center. But Gill has a track record.

 

The long time National Hockey League defenseman decided to leave the Brockville Braves of the Central Canada Hockey League last summer after being their Head Coach and General Manager since 2006-07. In Brockville, at the Junior ‘A’ level he inherited a similar situation five-years-ago. It wasn’t that the Braves were horrible, it’s just that they weren’t anything to write home about. But by the time he left, Brockville was home to one of the top programs in the country. There are similarities coaching at the two levels, you are responsible for making sure teenagers are staying out of trouble off the ice and developing their skills on the ice. However, in the OHL you are preparing many players for the rigors of professional hockey as opposed to getting them ready for make the leap to either the Major Junior or the NCAA. A good organization at the Tier II level is everything the Brockville Braves are today and they owe it all to the man that ran the organization the last 5-years.

 

The highlight of the Gill’s time with the team was 2009-10. The organization won the rights to host the 2010 Eastern Canadian Championship also known as the Fred Page Cup. He knew that 2009-10 was the year his team was going to have to go for it so he started to build his program to be at its best that year. Not only did Brockville bring home its first Fred Page Cup since 1997 (a team that featured current Ottawa Senator Matt Carkner), but as a result of winning the tournament they were able to compete in the Nationals at the RBC Cup in Dauphin, Manitoba.

 

But he didn’t want it to just be a one year deal and to this point it hasn’t been. That year the team had 9 players on their roster committed to NCAA Division-1 programs. They also set a CCHL win-streak record as the team reeled off 29 consecutive victories during the regular season that year. To put that into prospective, the league has a 62-game schedule. Pretty much half-of the season was part of the streak. The team lost in the league finals to the Pembroke Lumberkings in 5-games that year.  As a result they didn’t play in the Fred Page Cup as the league champions, just as hosts.

 

Because of that in the two years since Brockville became a destination for players that wanted to play south of the boarder and thus have remained very competitive since. He still owns the team today, but has left his former Assistant Coach and successor Jason Hawkins with a very good team.

 

It might seem kind of weird to some that you can just flick the switch and go from a league where you try and convince kids to go play in the NCAA to trying to steal players from the OHL’s largest competitor. But building a good program is all the same, show players they can develop under your guidance and people will want to play for you.

 

He’s cared many of the same philosophies over to his OHL coaching career with Kingston. He likes his teams to play a very structured style of hockey by having all players by into his system and he hates undisciplined penalties. 

 

Gill has coached against many of the players currently on his roster now while he was in the CCHL such as Warren Steele (Smiths Falls Bears), Adam Lloyd (Gloucester Rangers), Jack Nevins (Kemptville 73’s) and Jean Dupuy (Hawkesbury Hawkes). He also used Alex Gudbranson as an affiliate player with the Braves while he was in Minor Midget AAA with the Ottawa 67’s. There is some familiarity with some of the players he has on his roster.   

 

If you look at the make-up of the Frontenacs roster it’s a very young team and they have for plenty of high draft picks coming up in this year’s OHL priority selection because of trades they’ve made since the start of training camp. Whether it was dealing Max Domi to the London Knights or sending Ryan Spooner and Tyler Brown to Sarnia in separate deals prior to the trade deadline, the Frontenacs are compiling young assets. They have brought in young players with a lot of upside such as 17-year-old Billy Jenkins from Niagara and 16-year-old Ryan Kujawinski from Sarnia, both have made an impact offensively and will only get better as time goes on. Both players have already more points in Fronts jersey this year than they did with their previous teams, while playing just a fraction of the games.

 

Off the players on their roster today, only forward Connor Stokes and goaltender Igor Bobkov will be too old to play in the league next year.  

 

The make-up of this roster will change as they can make a trade or two during the summer and the players on the current roster that do return will be a year older. Gill wasn’t a fan of having a roster compiled of younger players while he was in Brockville and we’ve heard on a number of occasions this year where he has pointed out the number of mistakes 16-and-17-year-olds will make while learning the OHL game. It might be hard to believe because what has happened with the franchise under Doug Gilmour’s watch, but the one move he did make that could turn things around was last summer hiring a former Leafs teammate.