November 28, 2004

Changes Coming To Junior Hockey?

An article today in the Toronto Star by Lois Kalchman on Hockey Canada's proposed changes to the way junior hockey programs are run (Hockey Canada proposes junior shakeup).

A nine-point initiative unveiled by Hockey Canada is bound to send shock waves through junior hockey.

The organization proposed at its semi-annual meeting yesterday that 14- and 15-year-old players be forbidden from playing junior hockey and that all junior teams, including Major Junior clubs, be limited to only one 16-year-old on their rosters.

The idea behind the proposal is to prevent 14- and 15-year-olds from leaving home to play junior hockey, and to ensure that only the best 16-year-olds move up to the junior level.

"We are Canadian," Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said, "and we want to make sure 16-year-olds (who play junior) play on a regular basis — and regular basis doesn't mean sitting in the stands or sitting on the bench. We want to try and make every hockey league in this country stronger."

This is regularly seen in the OHL. Younger players routinely take turns sitting out as healthy scratches. I can understand Hockey Canada's argument that if these players remained with their minor teams they would be spending more time on the ice . . .

In addition, the organization is recommending that only one American player be permitted on all junior teams, including Major Junior, and that only one non-North American player, instead of two, be allowed on Canadian Hockey League teams.

Wow. Now this will have serious consequences for the CHL. The OHL has three American teams --- Plymouth, Erie, and Saginaw, and the WHL and QMJHL also have teams in the US (Portland, Seattle, Lewiston, etc). I cannot see them changing this policy without substantial consideration on the impact to these teams/leagues.

Nicholson, Ontario Hockey League commissioner Dave Branch and Ontario Hockey Association president Brent Ladds were part of the 16-man committee that came up with the proposals. Among the committee's recommendations:

_Players aged 15 remain in midget hockey.

_Major Junior and Junior A and B teams be permitted to register only one 16-year-old player, and a system be implemented to monitor that player's level of participation.

_Midget players not be recruited from outside their geographic areas to play in Junior C and D leagues.

_Major Junior teams be permitted only one non-North American player instead of the two currently allowed.

_Negotiate a Canadian scholarship program in co-operation with Canadian universities and colleges.

Committee chair Marcel Redekop noted that there are 342 Americans now playing on Canadian junior teams, thus taking roster spots away from homegrown players.

OHL teams are allowed to have as many Americans on their rosters as they wish. For example, the first-place London Knights have four American players and the Sarnia Sting six.

"Status quo is not an option," Redekop said.

Ladds, on the other hand, expressed concern about the number of Canadian players going to the United States.

"Right now, the United States (Junior) Hockey League allows two Canadian players a team — that's 22 — but if they expand that could be detrimental (to Canadian hockey)," said Ladds, who is worried that many of the country's best juniors not playing in the CHL will join the exodus to the U.S. league.

Well, is this a situation whereby the US limits the number of Canadian players in the best interests of their own, so Hockey Canada should institute the same type of policy? Is the US Junior Hockey League considering expanding the number of Canadian players? I'm not very familiar with the US system, and how it compares with the Canadian minor, major, university routes.

The following is interesting in light of the recent bru-ha-ha that erupted in Toronto regarding the amount of money some parents were paying for their minor hockey programs, and the gentleman who had bought up a number of teams:

Ladds cited the rising cost of minor hockey — as documented in the recent Star series Minor Hockey, Major Money — as one of the main reasons for the number of midget-age players at the junior level. He said that with minor hockey costing at least $2,000 a season, the incentive to play for free in junior leagues is obvious.

Also yesterday, Hockey Canada vice-chair Al Morris presented a 12-page report on the issue of "entrepreneurship" — or individuals operating minor hockey organizations for profit — in Canadian hockey. A committee will investigate further.

It will be interesting to see the reaction to these proposed changes.

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