The Kent St. John’s Junior Hockey League president and team reps are upset with Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League’s decision to raid its players this season, and the junior circuit wants the “semi-pro” league to back off.
Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador president Jack Lee said the senior and junior leagues met at HNL’s fall meeting in Grand Falls-Windsor and agreed that the senior teams would not touch the junior players, aside from overage (21-years) players who, after Nov. 1, have over-age status and are free agents free to play where they choose.
“So if there’s an over-age player who wants to play senior and is capable of playing at the level, the junior team wouldn’t hold the rights anymore,” said Lee.
That’s fine and dandy, but junior league president Bern Tobin says while the Avalon East Senior Hockey League has agreed to avoid raiding any of the junior teams, the same cannot be said for the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League.
NLSHL teams such as the Gander Flyers and the Mount Pearl Blades have already signed a couple of junior stars.
The league’s expansion franchise, the Flyers, signed Southern Shore junior Breakers star overager Shane Boland earlier this summer, while teammate Andrew Gale is apparently leaving the Shore to play for the Mount Pearl H.J. Bartlett Electric Blades. The Flyers had also invited Trinity-Placentia junior Flyers forward Darrin Wilkins to camp, but he was later released.
Each junior hockey league team is permitted to have six overagers each season. These signed players can’t be taken until after Nov. 1 through the junior league, but they can be taken prior to the start of the season if they haven’t signed a junior card.
“The Avalon East Senior Hockey League honors its agreement with us,’ said Tobin. “They won’t touch our players. They call up players for five games, but never on game nights, and then leave them alone. It’s an affiliation that works well for both leagues. It gives the senior teams a look at the juniors, gives the juniors some senior experience and it doesn’t hurt the junior clubs.
“That’s called co-operation which his something we’re not getting for the semi-pro league,” added Tobin, referring to the NLSHL setup.
“I don’t understand why they can’t wait until after Nov. 1. These overagers are key players on all of the teams.”
Tobin said he’s warned NLSHL president Neil Norcott and provincial senior hockey chair Gary Gale, “that if you touch players under 20, you’ll face tampering charges. If those players participated in our league last year and they approach them, then that’s tampering.”
Tobin only sees the raiding escalating next season.
As far as this season is concerned, Breakers general manager Mike O’Brien says losing Gale and Boland is a, “huge setback.
“We were building a contender this season despite the fact we are the smallest association in the league,” said O’Brien, “and then we lose our top two players to senior.
“It seems like Hockey Newfoundland let Gander come into the semi-pro senior league without having to the list off players they had”, and the Flyers are looking to fill the roster by raiding St. John’s league junior teams.
“Then you have the Mount Pearl team complaining about the lack of fan support at the Glacier, and then they’re looking to play out of the Jack Byrne Arena.
“The Mount Pearl team in the Avalon East league is filled with local players who can’t get a game with the NLSHL Mount Pearl entry,” noted O’Brien.
O’Brien is frustrated with what is going on in terms of raiding, but he feels there’s nothing anyone will do about it.
“There are two levels that Hockey Newfoundland cares about, and that’s senior and minor. It seems junior hockey is always left out,” O’Brien said.
Tobin said he doesn’t blame the junior player who may be out of a job or attending university for taking a few bucks to play in the NLSHL.
But he does blame the NLSHL for raiding its players.
“I’m blaming the people who are getting on with underhanded crap,” he said. “Nobody has any respect for us.”
O’Brien agrees that it isn’t the players’ fault, but raiding juniors, “certainly doesn’t help our league.”