WINGHAM, Ont. Â– It's Hockey Night in Wingham and the scoreboard and time clock at the Knights of Columbus Centre are acting up. No problem, though. The public address announcer does a great job of informing everyone how much time is left during each stoppage in play and your Wingham Ironmen are doing their part by dismantling the Walkerton Hawks.
The 50-50 ticket sellers and the Ironmen Bar are doing a brisk business, the 1,000 locals in attendance are enthusiastic and well behaved. In one corner, a 120-pound guy with a straggly beard stands proudly with a replica of the WWE heavyweight belt and almost nobody bats an eye at him.
Welcome to the Western (Ont.) Jr. C Hockey League, where the players either dream of moving up the hockey ladder or are on their way back down and are playing simply for the love of the game. The hockey is good and clean and there are surprisingly few cheap shots or dirty play. In the words of my friend Dan Johnson, who occasionally travels from his hobby farm to go to Ironmen games, Â“It's nice to see that they all came to play hockey tonight.Â”
Dan and my friends, Gino Falzone and Dan's son David, notice No. 16 for Wingham has some pretty good wheels and I remark No. 2 for the Ironmen is logging a ton of ice time on defense. It turns out that they happen to be 17-year-old twins Adam and Chris Corbett. Chris has been chosen for the league's all-star game and is an offensive force and Adam is small, but a steadying influence on the blueline.
As 17-year-olds, they're a lot younger than most of their teammates. The rosters of both teams are dominated by 19- and 20-year-olds. In this league, teams are even allowed to dress four 21-year-olds, several of whom will be 22 by the time the season ends in the spring.
For most of these players, Jr. C represents the end of their competitive hockey days. Former NHLers Kris King and Todd Harvey played Jr. C hockey back in the day and Tom Fergus even played Jr. D before going to the Peterborough Petes en route to the NHL.
But the fact is Jr. C is rarely scouted anymore, largely because Canadian Hockey Association rules stipulate teams can have only one 16-year-old and no 15-year-olds in their lineups. And although some can fall through the cracks, a 17- or 18-year-old playing Jr. C is not exactly seen as a blue-chipper.
Ironmen captain Matt McCann has been there though, albeit for an excruciatingly short time. At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, McCann has NHL size and was good enough five years ago to be drafted in the fourth round by the Ontario League's Kitchener Rangers, a team that boasted the likes of Mike Richards, Derek Roy and Greg Campbell and went on to win the Memorial Cup in 2002-03.
McCann played 17 games that season with the Rangers, but went back to Jr. B hockey when Steve Eminger returned to the Rangers from the Washington Capitals.
Â“Mike Richards used to pick me up every morning and we'd drive to school together,Â” McCann says. Â“Now you see him scoring goals for the Philadelphia Flyers and you wonder what might have been.Â”
McCann wonders what might have been because the next fall at Rangers training camp, McCann began to feel ill and listless. By the time doctors discovered what was wrong with him, his season was ruined and his chance to play major junior hockey had passed him by.
It turned out that McCann had a rare blood disorder called Paroxysmal Nocturnal Hemoglobinuria (PNH), where red blood cells are weakened and are destroyed much more rapidly than normal ones. After about 18 months out of hockey, McCann joined the Ironmen and has had a great run of success with two league titles and an appearance in the league final the past three seasons.
McCann has completed an apprenticeship in window glazing and is currently working on a project at the Windsor Casino. Next year, he'll likely suit up for the senior team in nearby Palmerston.
Â“It's pretty hard for me to be bitter,Â” McCann said. Â“Hockey has been great to me.Â”
And thanks to the Ironmen, it has also been pretty great to the fine people of Wingham.
Ken Campbell's Cuts appears regularly only on The Hockey News.com. Want to get the inside edge from Ken himself? You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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