Newfoundland Senior Hockey has seen its share of controversy in the past....
HNL’s “AAA” Mindless Reorganization
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.