The New Kid on the Block: Canadian Premier Junior Hockey League

Stop

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.

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10 thoughts on “The New Kid on the Block: Canadian Premier Junior Hockey League

  1. These CPJHL/GMHL guys are cut from the same cloth as the CIHL kingpin…..hockey wannabes tying to squeeze a living from the game by charging outlandish fees for a highly inferior product. With 184 Hockey Canada sanctioned Jr teams in Ontario covering all corners of the Province and skill levels, these Outlaw leagues clearly demonstrate their predatory motives. If you can’t grab a roster spot on one of the 4,232 availalable on one of the sanctioned teams you are not a Jr. caliber player. People shouldn’t be paying thousands of dollars to play in glorified Juvenile caliber leagues. It is mind boggling how people can continue to enable these bush league products to survive.

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  2. Why is a complete joke of an owner like Frank Routhet , Stephane Levault and Tyler Kelsh ( 20 years old ) aloud to own teams. Both frank and Stephane have destroyed hockey in feversham and their areas it’s no ones fault but themselves. Bryan Elliot , great guy. The guys running his teams complete joke not respected at all. Frank’s youngest son can barely skate , Stephane had players on his team that can barely tie their skates . Teams in the GMHL have succeeded Temiscaming, Muskoka , Meaford , Almaguin , Kingsville Seguin are all small town hockey towns who are crazy about their teams. Why not go to them why go to the teams who
    Failed in the G ?

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    1. Yes Tyler Kelsh is only 20 but I do know that he was talking about becoming the GM for the flint firebirds in the ohl and he has a
      Great hockey background… So before you go run your mouth about something maybe you should get your information about someone there bud…

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  3. After reading this article I had a very different feeling than those who have also commented. I guess maybe I believe in giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. This is a new league. How can you make comparisons to other leagues? Did I read this correctly in assuming that the league is looking to be sanctioned? They are looking to build a league that works together? A commissioner with many years in the hockey world? How can you come to such negative conclusions? What do you base these conclusions on? I guess I still believe in the old saying ” you have to start somewhere” And if this group is starting “somewhere” why would you (previous replies) feel the need to put down something that hasn’t given you a reason to?

    Maybe Im missing something, but I don’t see where the owners of the teams are listed? Where did you come up with these names? I don’t see where it says that the GMHL and the CPJHL are competing for players? It appears as tho you might be a GMHL affiliate or just a supporter, either way , no one is discrediting that organization. It seems to be a bit personal to attack players. In fact its a bit unsettling.

    I say GO FOR IT guys. If people have negative things to say with nothing to base it on then its worth just that….nothing!

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  4. I agree with Mr McCuzza.

    Great idea with this new league and the concept is great but the personnel behind it is wrong. These owners have failed at the GMHL Model which is very simple and hard to mess up. I live in Barrie and I’m a huge fan of the GMHL and I’ve seen how all these teams are ran but all the ” Basement Teams ” are the ones running this new league yet they struggled and some even folded . Falcons , Storm , Grizzlies and Wolves all could barely muster up a roster let alone wins. Great idea by Mr.Elliot , just needs proper backing.

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  5. Hello ,

    Last year My son was just recruited to play for the Grizzleis and now this league and he played house league in Barrie his whole life ? My son has a huge passion for hockey but the skill just isn’t there. He’s been out to GMHL skates and have been released at every single one yet this league offers my son contracts right on the spot. I’m so confused with their recruiting process. Just giving kids false hope.

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  6. First of all, let me say that you can’t claim to be an objective journalist when you feel the need to make certain you include (outlaw) as an adjective after the word independent! Strike one!

    Second, when you choose make ignorant assumptions, you also demonstrate a lack of journalistic integrity. Not only did these GMHL team ownership groups clearly show themselves as lacking the ‘chops’ to run a quality organization or have the network and know-how to put a quality team on the ice, just ponder the concept of forming a new club and expecting the league to run it properly for you! May I have some of that fairy dust!!! Strike two!

    And lastly, the whole concept of criticizing the GMHL, with an NHL style model of open borders or better yet, the concept of offering 21 year old players one additional year of opportunity to play competitive hockey and a chance of eliciting interest from college institutions or professional level teams around the world is just so ignorantly establishment-ego driven! ‘If you don’t fit into our little box, you don’t belong’! Painfully gullible! Strike three!

    You’re out!

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  7. Hockey Canada will suspend anyone who participates in any way, shape or form in a rogue league……for a year.

    They contacted hundreds of kids through social media…..giving them false hope.

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  8. So we now turn the page one year later. The CPJHL started with 8 teams and ended with 8 teams. The intention from the start was to have 8 teams. The league had 12 teams interested and decided to go with the eight strongest teams so that they wouldn’t have teams folding (which is unfair to the players). At the end of the season the league’s executive sat down and went over each franchise. It was decided that the two Ottawa teams were not operated in the guidelines of the league and that they were outside of the league’s footprint. Since all teams in the league are on probation for three season, it was decided it was in the best interest of the league to let them go. At this moment, the CPJHL has added Barry’s Bay, Bracebridge, Coldwater, Creemore and Mississauga for next season. There will be a summer deadline to determine the viability of each of these franchises and if they are not ready to go, the league will step in like they did last season and determine what is best for the league. For all those who said the CPJHL would not start the season, for all those people who said that the CPJHL would not last until Christmas and for all those who said the CPJHL wouldn’t finish the season……………….well, you should have been at our Championship. The level of play was higher than anticipated, the fan support for each team was amazing and it was exciting right down to final goal in overtime. Every owner that is coming back for year two tried to do things “the right way.” The league has already moved several players on to higher levels. It is that success that will carry the CPJHL into their second season and for many years to come.

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