OHL's best ever? Branch says Orr, Lindros and McDavid
Erie Otters captain Connor McDavid keeps an eye on the play during Game 1 of the OHL final against the Oshawa Generals Friday at GM Centre. (Michael Peake/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)
From David Branch’s seat near the top of the swank GM Centre, it only takes a quick glance to the right to see the prestigious orange-and-white banners depicting the Oshawa Generals greats of yesteryear dangling from the rafters.
For Branch, the man whose name has been synonymous with the Ontario Hockey League for almost four decades, two of the names up there hold unique significance — No. 2, Bobby Orr (Robert Gordon Orr did not wear No. 4 until the NHL) and No. 88, Eric Lindros.
In Branch’s opinion, Orr and Lindros are two of the three most dominant players he has ever seen lace up a pair of skates in the OHL.
“Watching Bobby Orr, he changed the game, You could pretty much say he revolutionized it,” Branch said Friday night. “The way he could skate from the back end, the way he controlled the play, it was incredible.”
As for Lindros, Branch pointed out the unique mix of size and speed the Big E possessed, a combination junior hockey had never really seen to that extent before, at least not in such an intimidating package, made him an imposing presence.
“The thing about Eric was that he was playing at the time we introduced player cards and he was the cutting edge for it,” Branch said. “He was in such demand.”
Orr and Lindros make the Commish’s Top Three. Hard to argue.
So, who’s the third?
“It’s hard to put him on the list,” Branch said. “He only played in our league for one year, as outstanding as he was.”
“If we’re talking Canadian Hockey League, he’d be right up there with Orr and Lindros,” Branch noted. “But he played in the Quebec League.”
Given the Great One and Sid The Kid have been ruled ineligible from Branch’s list, No. 3 now seems pretty obvious, if it wasn’t already in the first place. All we had to do is look down during Game 1 of the OHL final between the Erie Otters and Oshawa Generals to see him.
“I’m not going to rank the three of them in order, but Connor McDavid definitely would be on there,” Branch said of the Otters superstar.
Robert Gordon Orr. Eric Lindros. Connor McDavid.
Heady company indeed for Erie’s No. 97.
“With the speed of the game and the size of the players, the way he can skate, the way he can make plays, the way he can stickhandle in tight spaces, there is just such a separation between him and the other players,” Branch said.
Where McDavid has no equal in the league — past or present — is the presence he has and the buzz that surrounds him, thanks to social media.
“Unprecedented,” Branch said.
When Orr was plying his trade in the late 1960s, the introduction of the internet was still decades away. “Yahoo” was something drunken cowboys would slur when they staggered out of a saloon in those old wild west flicks.
At the time the Big E was taking the OHL by storm, tweeting was something you heard birds doing early in the morning. Twitter was a concept still years in the making.
But in this modern area, the legend of Connor grows every time a cameraphone captures one of his Magical McDavid Moments, such as the one he produced on a spectacular end-to-end rush that saw him set up Remi Elie for a power-play goal in the final minute of the second period, narrowing the Generals lead to 2-1.
On Friday night, “dominant” was not the term you’d use for McDavid’s performance. He had his snapshot of brilliance in setting up the Otters lone goal, but that was one of the very few bright spots in a 4-1 Generals win, one in which McDavid had just one point and was minus-2.
As for being “targeted” by the Generals, it is a treatment that McDavid is accustomed to receiving from every team.
“It’s something I’ve dealt with for a while now and it’s something that I have to learn to battle through,” said McDavid, who now has 43 points in 16 playoff games.
Just like Orr and Lindros before him.