HNL’s “AAA” Mindless Reorganization

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Updated: February 10, 2016
Newfoundland AAA Minor Hockey

Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador allowed the major midget (formerly AAA) program to continue for years and years with St. John’s dominating the standings and always sending teams to represent Newfoundland at the Atlantic’s. No team but St. John’s had a chance of competing for top spot in the provincial league. It got so bad that at one point Western was not even able to ice a team. Tri-Pen suffered the same fate one year. In other words, Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador allowed a situation to develop whereby no team but St. John’s won in many many years. A simple review of past years’ Major Midget champions will show you how many years the St. John’s Maple Leaf’s won the title versus all other teams in the league. Then when organized pressure was put on HNL, they agreed to make two teams in St. John’s as opposed to one, but only after the year St. John’s hosted the Telus Cup in St. John’s so they would have a competitive team. In the face of insurmountable pressure, HNL decided to waste another year before splitting St. John’s into two teams. The lack of competitive balance went on for years and years.

It got to a point where High School Hockey became more popular than Major Midget in all centres but St. John’s. The kids from Western just didn’t want to continue to lose, and to have no opportunity to win in the AAA provincial league. The top players in Corner Brook were playing high school hockey rather than the supposedly highest level in the province-Major Midget. The Major Midget league had become a farce. The same thing is happening in the current set up for all leagues. The only reason Western can compete in the Major Midget division is because by the time the St. John’s kids reach midget age, most of the top level talent in the division have left to pursue their hockey careers in leagues on the mainland. It brings the St. John’s teams back to the pack so to speak. Many observers guarantee that in the next 10 years the champions from the Peewee and Bantam division’s will come from the Avalon peninsula, and more specifically either from St. John’s or TriCom. Western and Central will not stand a chance of winning either of these divisions.

Many will point out that the geographical boundaries for each region don’t make any sense.

For instance, Western has to put a team together with players from the tip of the Northern Peninsula, south to PAB. Central has a large geographical area as well- but neither have many large Associations with the funds to hire Technical Directors. The kids that tryout in Western and Central are often quite talented, but often come from small communities where talent in abundant, but high level coaching is absent. This makes for a situation where frequent practices are a necessity, but cannot be organized because of the large distances the players need to travel to attend. This allows for very little practice time, and most parents don’t have an appetite for driving their kid for four or five hours to a simple practice. When I was involved in the AAA system, folks in St. Anthony would routinely have to leave their home at 3 or 4 AM in the morning to make practices in Corner Brook or Rocky Harbour.

Once the kids from the smaller communities got to the center where practice was held, they would then be required to stay overnight and pay for hotels to attend practices on Saturday and Sunday. It becomes an extremely expensive investment in children’s hockey. These trips, of course, would occur in the dead of winter and in terrible driving conditions. The plight of Central is much the same. It isn’t great for Tri-Pen either. However, theoretically, the St. John’s teams could get together for a practice with a couple of hours notice.

Can you imagine Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador changing the boundaries for AAA such that St. John’s kids have to travel three or four hours for practice?

That simply would not happen. Nobody from St. John’s would agree to do this, however parents of kids from Central and Western do this all the time. The St. John’s players and parents would never approve a league that required their kids to travel for a couple of hours for a simple practice. But the Western and Central entries are routinely doing this-almost every week.

When parents and coaches expressed concerns to HNL Representatives, the response was that “well maybe these kids (from Central and Western) should move to St. John’s” as there is less travel and costs are kept to a minimum because of that. The entire system is a complete joke. If St. John’s wants to compete at a regional or national level, then perhaps they should pull out of the NL AAA leagues and raise money to compete in an Maritime league.

Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador does not exist to advantage one region over another as is obviously occurring right now in ‘AAA” hockey here in the province.  It is highly irregular to see a governing body create an atmosphere and playing environment that creates an obvious bias.  The decisions made by HNL are seen by many coaches, minor organizations and parents as creating an environment that will allow St. John’s teams to dominate on the ice.

HNL denies that it has done anything to create such an environment but those in hockey circles question the decisions made and see that the current environment will derail all the efforts to rebuild hockey across the province.  The added challenges at the “AAA” level are seen as disgusting and disheartening for parents and players alike.

It is time for Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador to meet its mandate – build hockey in the province rather than establish bias within the game.  It is time for HNL to recognize the damage it has done to the game we all love.

7 Comments

  1. Rural

    February 10, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    Have to agree with you 100%.

    HockeyNL has made a total mess of the structure of hockey in NL. There is no way AAA teams from outside the overpass can compete with St. John’s teams. St John’s teams have weekly off ice sessions and multiple practices. Whereas teams on the outside are lucky to get together once

    On top of the issues in AAA hockey leagues. HockeyNL by removing body checking out of hockey has created a greater divide between players from St. John’s and rural NL. Currently body checking is only per permitted in AAA leagues, St. John’s Don Johnson league, and the provincially ranked A division which is for the most part St. John’s teams. Teams in rural NL which typically are ranked at provincial ‘B’ division or lower are left to play hockey where they don’t get to develope skills to play hockey with body contact. HockeyNL has essentially removed the option of a late bloomer in rural NL to make the jump to AAA because he has not developed his skills to play body contact hockey. I would expect that because of the hesitancy for players to make the jump to AAA, rural AAA teams will find that they won’t have the numbers to ice a team.

    HockeyNL has a track record of making hastily made decisions where they don’t take time to consider all sides. In stead they choose the safe and popular decision instead of taking time to make informed decisions.

  2. Rhonda

    February 10, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    Agree on many points. I’ve had two boys go through the AAA/Major Midget circuit and have had to travel 2.5 hours to Whitbourne/Bay Roberts for practises and then turn around to return home. (and that was for mid-week practises-never mind weekend games) Lots of homework done in the van. But what do you do? It was not cheap, as many of you know, but you do what you can. Because of the decision to eliminate body checking, many kids will be at a disadvantage and I expect there will be fewer kids from Rural associations playing higher levels of hockey within the province; which is too bad. So glad I am finished with it..but my boys will say they loved every minute of it.

  3. admin

    February 10, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    Rhonda, we are hearing the same from many parents. You guys are courageous & have to be admired for doing this for your children. Great job as hockey parents!

  4. Corey Pretty

    February 10, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    The same thing is happening with provincial minor and female tournaments. The trend is toward mega tournaments which takes money right out of the pockets of the smaller organizations. Hosting provincial tournaments for some communities is a big event. It brings money into the smaller economy with hotels and restaurants as well as the local rink’s canteen. Teams pay to play in these mega tournaments. That’s money that could be going into the smaller local minor hockey associations, money that is badly needed to keep some of them out of the red and afloat.
    It also takes the comraderie and personal feeling out of a nice 5 or 6 team tournament when there’s a 15 or 16 team tournament. It ses to me that ever since the current president of HNL has been in control, there is more focus on the elite program (which benefits his hockey program) and on larger centers like st. Johns, corner brook and Gander, then on the smaller local association that has been the back bone and grass roots of minor hockey in this province for some time. It’s time for big change in our hockey system and it has to start at the executive level. I could go on and on but the more I write the more upset I get.

  5. Sandi

    February 11, 2016 at 10:14 pm

    AAA is a total farce not only for out of town players but for players in St. John’s too. Geographically nor demographically is Newfoundland & Labrador set up for AAA hockey. It would be more beneficial to our minor hockey players to continue to play association hockey and if NLHA wants representation in Atlantics, pick a provincial team to represent NL. The only thing AAA has done is water down the other leagues. Its set up for the delusional parents who think their kid is heading to the NHL and are willing to do whatever it takes. In the interim it’s putting children on our highways in the middle of winter and for what.

  6. Mark

    February 12, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    Many great points made in this article. Just finished the season last evening. Outrageous travel for less than competitive hockey. More should be done to ease the travel for players who are at a disadvantage, geographically. We’ve basically felt somewhat “punished” for our geographic location. Things need to be revised for those of us who are living away from the “main centers” so we can attend practices and games without having to travel for hours and hours on end. Bought a new vehicle the end of June 2015 and by December 2015 had 22,000 kms racked up… This will give you a glimpse at our outrageous travel expected to be involved in elite level hockey.

  7. admin

    February 12, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    Wow! That is something! 22,000 in 6 months? Unbelievable. Are you still planning on supporting the current format or keeping your kids closer to home?

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