BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS – THEN AND NOW FOR THE LONDON NATIONALS

While preparing the rosters for an upcoming radio broadcast on 105.7 myFM between the visiting Strathroy Rockets and the London Nationals, I was startled by something on the Nats’ roster.

I had never seen a roster containing so many players from the same city.

It is only understandable that a city the size of London, with a population base of over 370,000 people, is going to produce some hockey players.

For many years a lot of folks were scratching their heads over the fact that London deliberately ignored their home grown talent. Most general managers and hockey pundits felt strongly that if London just retained the finest young players coming out of The Forest City every year they could quickly build a highly competitive and a consistent winner year after year.  The formula seemed simple enough to everyone else, but not to those holding the reins of power in London.

Instead, the emphasis was to dump the youngsters for older players. They felt that their blueprint for success would be to gleam 19 and 20-year-old student/hockey players attending The University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College.

Although the Nationals did have some success with an older roster during the regular season, it was a rocky and turbulent ride and playoff success eluded them.

A couple good cases in point would be London natives and future NHLers Logan Couture and Jeff Carter. Neither played for the Nats. Couture was sent to nearby St. Thomas while Carter was dealt to Strathroy for 20-year-old goaltender David Riddell.

Why would an organization not want a player like the gifted Jeff Carter? The 15-year-old had scored 75 goals the previous year playing AAA in London.  SEVENTY-FIVE GOALS!  The Rockets were told by the Nats, “He doesn’t fit into our plans.”

Doesn’t fit into their plans!!!? A player who just scored 75 goals the previous season and was already being scouted by Hall of Famer Bobby Orr and his agency, and he doesn’t fit into their plans?

Carter went to Strathroy, where he led them in scoring in the regular season and playoffs, was their rookie of the year, most sportsmanlike player and playoff MVP.

One of the reasons why the Nationals did not want these young players was that they may only have them for one season before they advanced to the OHL. That certainly was the case with Couture and Carter, but who wouldn’t want a player on their team that would be an impact player for one season and then be associated with that team forever? With a city the size of London there should be another young impact player rolling along soon, although there aren’t many Carters or Courtures in any city.

So you can imagine my surprise when I looked down the London Nationals’ 2015-16 roster and noticed 19 players from London. That is phenomenal. In fact, there is only three players who do not call London home; Scott Dorion (Penetanguishene), Scott Goodman (Oakville) and Matthew Bean (Calgary).

This is clearly an attempt to build a club with local players. It certainly helps at the box office as they would bring plenty of family and friends to see them play, and as well, a ton of potential billeting money can be saved.

Another clear indication of London’s youth movement is the fact that they have 10 players who played AAA last season for the London Jr. Knights. There are no less than 31 players in the Western Conference who played AAA last season in London with the Junior Knights.  St. Marys has 7, St. Thomas and Strathroy have 5, while Lambton Shores and Sarnia have a pair each.

There are no less than 54 players currently playing in the GOJHL from London – 52 of those are in the Western Conference.

The only out-of-conference Londoners playing are former National Anthony Kotsovos and goaltender Carson Poulin, both with the Stratford Cullitons.

The three Western Conference teams closest to London, St. Marys, St. Thomas and Strathroy have the most Londoners. The Lincolns’ roster boasts 11, the Stars have 10 and the Rockets 7.

Lambton Shores has 4 and Sarnia 1. All three western clubs, Chatham, LaSalle and Leamington have none.

The future certainly looks strong for the London Nationals. Their recipe for success was right in their own backyard.

(photo credit – London, Ontario, Canada, the Forest City from above)

David Honsberger is a former journalist and columnist for the Strathroy Age Dispatch. A winner of the Stuart Bolton Memorial Award for the Strathroy Rockets Volunteer of the Year in 1996, David served for seven years as the club’s president. He was honoured in 2015 when he was inducted into the Strathroy Rockets/Blades Wall of Fame in the builder category. David is currently in his 20th year of volunteering with the Rockets and provides the colour commentary for the Strathroy Rockets radio broadcasts on 105.7 my FM. He resides in Strathroy with his mother and his two cherished Savannah cats, Scout and Hey, Boo.

David Honsberger

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