A good way to start an article is always with a good photo. So why the stop sign? Not to stay away from this new league, but to slow down, take your time and learn what you are getting yourself into… and that is the aim here.
You always have to give these new start up leagues a chance to either succeed or fail. It isn’t going to be the players who decide whether it sinks or swims, it will be the management, executives and even the commissioner that will determine if teams or the league has to close their doors. Never the players who were promised a chance to play a sport.
This may be something different, or it may be the same old sad story.
Early this week, the Commissioner of the Canadian Premier Hockey League, Bryan Elliot, chatted with me on the phone about the new league, how it is different, what they hope to achieve and his experiences from the other side that will help this league thrive.
I contacted the commissioner late last week and reluctantly agreed to give him a list of questions in advance. To be honest, I despise this method unless it is with a player, but I will give the new guy on the block the benefit of the doubt and knowing we will still have a phone interview, I can dig deeper into the answers that need to be elaborated upon.
The first thing to know is that Bryan Elliott is no spring chicken. Long story short, he is a retired army man who has coached around the globe at various levels and spent the first two years behind the Niagara Whalers bench in the GMHL. He retired last season from coaching, stepping away from the Whalers and the GMHL. The timing of the move to commissioner of a new junior league just seemed to work and the man has no ties to any owner, coach, or player other than an ‘acquaintanceship’ with one coach in the league who he coached against many moons ago.
SO lets get to the nitty gritty of the CPJHL. On their Facebook page, they posted that the CPJHL is a Jr A league, but that was quickly removed. When asking Commissioner Elliott about the sudden ‘change of heart’ in labeling the Level of the league he had this to say, “the OJHL is a Jr A League. We are a Junior League. We are not advertising that we are a caliber that we are not really at”
Well that is a refreshing change isn’t it? Especially when you hold the mirror up and look at the comparison to the GMHL.
Another fact about the new league. They will not have 21 year olds on their roster, if you want to suit up for this new league for the 2016/17 season, you have to be born no later than 1996. That is right; they are following the same junior rules that legitimate Junior leagues in the Province and Nation have to abide by. But with that checkmark for the league, there is a minus. The league will allow 6 import players to be on each roster. 12 teams, 6 non-Canadian/American players, makes 72 imports in this junior league.
I talked with Elliott about the philosophy behind having import players in the league and the answer was simple. “The AAU allows us to carry 6 imports and ice only players up to the age of 20 on our teams.” So it isn’t exactly their choice to want it, but if you are allowed to have it why not use it? Each team can decide whether or not to have any or up to 6 on their team. So the logical follow up question is why pair with the AAU. And this is another difference between an ‘established’ unsanctioned (Outlaw) league like the GMHL and this new CPJHL league.
Players in the GMHL have to pay for their own insurance. The AAU takes care of that. You need insurance to drive a car; you need home insurance, etc. You may never use the insurance, but you always need it, and that is the same thing for any league across the nation. You need insurance. The AAU covers on the ice as well as Tournaments. So if a CPJHL team or a CPJHL all-star team, wants to participate in an AAU Tournament in Nevada, it is covered and there is no additional cost.
What does insurance run a player if an individual player has to buy it? About $600… which doesn’t seem like a lot, but if you are in a league you just paid $10,000 to play in, and paying for billets, equipment, food, etc.… you want that $600.
So lets connect the dots here, three teams were ‘forced out’ of the GMHL a week or two ago and 3 of those teams had one owner and that owner, now has three teams in the CPJHL. The teams in question are the Coldwater Falcons, Bobcaygeon Storm and Haliburton Wolves.
So what happened, did he take his ball and go home or did he decide to stick it to the GMHL and create his own league a la Espanola Rivermen…He took his ball and went home… in a matter of speaking.
There are a lot of things wrong with the GMHL and due to Elliott’s experience with the league he is hoping to correct a lot of those wrongs as this new league opens up. Mainly the support for owners. To say that the GMHL is a turnkey operation would be a lie. You pay money, you get a ‘territory/town/village’ to call your own and that is it. There is no support if you struggle. If you can’t get your arena lease in order, too bad. If you need a player, too bad. If you struggle with manufacturers or making deals for transportation, take a number at the complaints department.
The Commissioner only agreed to join the league if that would be different from the GMHL. He says he is hoping to promote ‘customer service’ for the owners to help them not only finish their first season, but to come back for their second and be stronger. A noble gesture when you hear about it, considering the history of leagues starting up out of nowhere (CIHL/WUHL) but something that Elliott is adamant about and part of the reason he took the position. “If the league is not willing or able to help its member clubs out, then what is the point?”
To be honest, I wish I recorded the conversation (rookie mistake) because I have some memory of Elliott saying, and I am paraphrasing, if the owners do not want to work together to help each other out, I will walk away from this.
Hopefully the commissioner will email me back and I can put in the direct quote…
With that being a lot of information to take in, it sure appears that this league is looking to be a kinder, gentler unsanctioned (outlaw) league… but they are moving towards a common goal not seen by these other leagues.
‘We have contacted Hockey Canada, and they have deferred us to the OHA and OHF. We are trying to work with them to join and be a member club and be a sanctioned league. It is a process that won’t happen over night, but until then we will make the league work and continue to look at associating with the OHA and OHF.”
That is definitely an ‘I will believe it, when I see it’ statement. If the intentions are true and they are willing to run a few seasons under AAU rules, then flip the script to become a Jr league, (not mentioning a letter) that is sanctioned by Hockey Canada, then more power to them in their journey.
The last tidbit I will discuss here before ending this is the notion that you are unable to play for a team under the Hockey Canada banner while enrolling in an unsanctioned league. That is incorrect. You need written permission from the team and submitted to the OHA and/or OHF. Players from the GMHL have successfully moved mid season to Jr C teams and if you partake in playing for the CPJHL then you have that option too.
It was an interesting talk with Commissioner Elliott, as he had the insight of working under the GMHL as well as his 30+ years of around the world coaching at every level (Jr B in Western Canada, WHL, Pro in Europe, etc.) to assist him in his new role. You can think of him as a crime fighter if you wish, trying to correct the wrongs of the evildoers that he has come across his path as he and the owners attempt to make a better-unsanctioned league than one that currently exists.
Hopefully that gives you some good insight to what you can expect from the CPJHL this upcoming season. As I said to the commissioner at the end of our call, ‘good luck and hopefully you take to the ice this fall.’
I am still skeptical about the new league as there isn’t always a golden unicorn that is flying over a rainbow, but a big positive is their branding. They know they are not a Jr A league, not trying to be, and for that, I will give them a chance. At least for now I have the ear of the commissioner… for how long… we will see. But if he is going to be honest answering my questions, I will be honest right back.