Darrell Davis: Don't panic, it's business as usual in the SJHL – Regina Leader Post

Fiascos in Alberta and B.C. apparently aren’t coming to Saskatchewan
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SJHL commissioner Kyle McIntyre wants everyone to know “the sky isn’t falling on junior hockey in Saskatchewan.”

With turmoil disrupting rival leagues in B.C. and Alberta, McIntyre sent out social media posts during the past week reassuring fans, teams, communities and sponsors that it’s status quo for the SJHL’s 12 franchises.

“Our intention was to remind people that things are good here in Saskatchewan,” said McIntyre. “We’re comfortable with our relationship with (Hockey Saskatchewan). We’ve been working with Hockey Canada and the (Canadian Junior Hockey League).
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“Is everything perfect? No. Are there some things we would like to change? Absolutely. But they’re not bad enough that we’re going to take our ball and go somewhere else.”

All 17 teams in the BCHL severed ties with Hockey Canada before this season, creating an independent junior (under-20) loop inside British Columbia.

Last week five Alberta teams, including the perennial-powerhouse Brooks Bandits, announced they were leaving the 16-team AJHL next season to join the BCHL.

In an overheated response the AJHL has cancelled games between any of the five outlaws and the 11 remaining teams. Games featuring the five departing teams are still being played, as are games among the 11 stalwarts.

It’s quite a fiasco.

Hockey Canada is already aswirl in legal issues regarding its 2018 world junior championship team, with five players asked to surrender to London police amid allegations of sexual assault. Now it’s facing problems from disenchanted junior teams that, in particular, don’t like Hockey Canada’s rules preventing them from recruiting 16- and 17-year-old prospects from outside their home provinces.
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Tier I Junior A hockey is the main pathway for Canadian players to pursue scholarships at U.S. colleges; 56 players from the SJHL earned scholarships last year, according to McIntyre, while B.C. and Alberta sent even more. Because the Western Hockey League, which includes the Regina Pats and Saskatoon Blades, is considered a “pro” league by U.S. colleges, players from major junior cannot receive scholarships.

McIntyre is proud of recent Centennial Cup performances by the Flin Flon Bombers, Battlefords North Stars and Estevan Bruins. He points to the SJHL’s overall competitiveness, where four teams are vying for the top spot while the other eight are spaced by only 14 points in the race for playoff berths.

“It affirms to me that what we’re doing in Saskatchewan is working,” said McIntyre. “We can be competitive. We’re developing kids. Some of the most outstanding programs in the county are in the SJHL and we have a strong competitive balance.”

About 39 per cent of the players in the SJHL are from Saskatchewan, a number McIntyre and some governors would like increased to 50 per cent despite claims from a few coaches that this province can’t provide much more talent.

“The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League has been in existence for over 50 years,” said McIntyre. “What keeps our league alive is that we are a grassroots league, driven by passionate volunteers and fan bases. Most of our communities are small towns where hockey is part of that fabric.”

Sixty of the top players from the SJHL and MJHL will meet for tournament games Jan. 30-31 at a showcase in Winnipeg. It’s a perfect opportunity for college coaches and NHL scouts to assess prospects.

There have also been discussions about interlocking games between Manitoba’s and Saskatchewan’s teams, perhaps including Alberta, before the league champions start playdowns for the Centennial Cup. Nothing concrete yet, but there are numerous possibilities for the CJHL.

“Nine leagues across Canada,” said McIntyre. “We have 116 communities and over 3,000 participants … When you think about the CJHL, it’s the largest unified, collective body still under the auspices of Hockey Canada

“There’s an opportunity for Hockey Canada and the CJHL to work collectively to embrace some of that change and make some changes that might encourage teams and players to stay within that structure.”

The richer teams from Alberta and B.C., many of which are privately owned, want to have the best players on their teams — any age, from anywhere — so they can provide entertaining games and make money selling tickets. Understandable.

To Hockey Canada’s credit, it accepts the notion that teams/leagues don’t have to be under its auspices. And in this case it truly has the best intentions for young players, trying to keep them near home until they become adults.

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